John Grochowski

John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski

A couple of overseas university students emailed to ask if I could help with a research project, and they sent a list of questions about how the casino industry works.

Many were about individual games, but at the top of the list, they wanted to know how casinos entice customers to keep playing.

That's a fair question. With the exception of a relative handful of advantage players at select games, we lose more often than we win. So why do we stay when we realize continued play is likely to come with a price?

There are many factors, but let's focus on three:

First, casinos offer games with odds close enough that players win sometimes.

Slot machines have the highest average house edge in the casinos, as low as 14 percent on some low-denomination games. Nevertheless, nearly everyone who plays often has winning sessions. Wins come from big jackpots and unusual runs of small and medium-sized payouts, and from bonus wins.

Blackjack basic strategy players and craps players who stick to pass and come with odds or don't pass and don't come while laying the odds can get the house edge under 1 percent. At that level, winning sessions will be frequent — not as frequent as sessions when the house wins, but enough that winning is a reasonable possibility each time you play.

The odds lead to enough winners that even if you're losing, you see others who are making money. There's room for hope that this is the time you'll get the royal flush or a couple of four of a kinds at video poker, or get in on that hot roll in craps. That hope keeps us playing.

Second, casinos try to make you comfortable while you play.

Seating, table size and height, the position of the screen and button on slot machines all are designed to keep you comfortable enough to keep playing with minimal fatigue.

A couple of decades ago "ergonomics" started to become a buzzword within the casino industry. Furniture manufacturers strive to have the proper padding on seats and proper support for your back. Slot manufacturers work to have the buttons in position so reaching for them and repeated play doesn't put undue strain on your wrist.

Anyone who started play in the 1980s, as I did, has seen a remarkable change. Slot players were seated on backless stools. In fact, in the early days of legalized casinos in Atlantic City, there were no seats at all at the slots. Slot players had to stand.

Easy access to beverages is part of making you comfortable while you play. Complimentary water, coffee and soft drinks are common throughout the casino world, whether delivered by waitresses or through serve-yourself machines. In some jurisdictions such as Nevada and New Jersey, alcoholic beverages also are on the house.

If you're comfortable and hydrated, you're a lot less likely to move out of sheer fatigue.

Third, casino amenities make sure you don't have to stray too far between playing sessions.

When you need a break for a meal, casino restaurants, buffets and snack bars get the job done without a need for you to leave the property. If you need a non-gaming diversion, some casinos have showrooms and lounges with live entertainment. Everyone has shopping, even if it's just a gift shop.

When you've seen a show, listened to some music, or shopped around, the games are still there waiting. And since you haven't had to leave the property for your break, you're there waiting for the games, too.

Look for John Grochowski on Facebook ( and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).