I didn’t expect to see so many people in a countryside casino on a Sunday afternoon. I was at a national park resort with an adjacent casino-hotel—an easy way for park visitors to find lodging and an even easier way for the House to make money.
There were rows upon rows of flashing, beeping, humming game machines, some featuring celebrities or film characters. Adults of every generation stared, fixed on spinning bars or pirates or pin-up characters or poker chips.
Every one of them was playing against the House, and every one of them was set up to lose. The House had done its homework. The House always does.
The lighting was low enough to draw the eye to the machines, yet high enough to allow one to read numbers, tickets, and money. Cut mirrors lined the back walls, creating the illusion of more room.
The space overflowed with machines and tables, yet there was nowhere but a smoker’s lounge and a bar to sit, because there was nothing the House would have people do except play, or relax enough to play more.
And there was the storm of constant noise: calls from dealers, alarms and bells from prize-winning plays, the occasional cheer from punters, and incessant background music.
On every leaflet, at every counter, on every machine, was the announcement “It’s just a game.” But the House had already designed everything about the space to encourage players to take that game seriously.
They’re warning people about becoming addicts, but they’re giving them incentives to keep coming back.”
“Yes: they’re doing their due diligence. They just don’t expect anyone to listen.”
Imagine building your entire business model on people ignoring your words yet adjusting themselves to fit your structural and spatial design. Imagine basing your profit projections on customers having a poor understanding of probability and risk and treating their own losses as entertainment.
This countryside casino was an extreme case, but ordinary organizations also design structures, spaces, and pipelines for customers to align themselves with.
Our question, as designers in some contexts and as people designed for in others, is whether these structures cast people as partners with whom we co-create value or as prey we set up to lose.