Investigating the role of music in gambling environments
Music plays a huge role in our everyday lives; many of us listen to the radio or our own music while at work, roughly a quarter of people aged under fifty take their music with them everywhere they go using earbuds or over-ear headphones, and television shows based on music in some way continue to dominate the Saturday night schedule in many countries throughout the world.
Against this backdrop, it seems counterintuitive that so little research has been done on the role of music in gambling environments prior to last decade despite casinos, amusement arcades, and online gambling being more popular than ever as leisure activities. The psychology of music has been well known for decades, and the results of the studies now being performed indicate this fact has not been lost on the designers of individual slot machines – or the owners of gambling venues.
The Psychology of Music
A study performed in 1999 by Hargreaves and North identified three key areas of everyday life where music serves distinct social functions: management of self-identity, interpersonal relationships, and mood. Different kinds of music have been proven to have varying effects on listeners – perhaps helping a subject to relax, or to create a feeling of heightened stimulation. This begs the question – how do these effects manifest in commercial situations such as shopping or gambling?
A basic analysis of the available data indicates that changing the tempo or volume of the background music used in these environments can have a measurable effect on the amount of money customers spend per minute. Whilst louder music resulted in customers spending less time in shopping environments, leading to overall revenue remaining roughly the same, the same effect was not observed in gambling environments. Some have speculated that the fixed event frequency of gambling activities (such as the number of bets or spins that can be placed during a given period) may be the reason for this difference.
Things become more interesting when the results of the effect of tempo are studied in detail. Fast-paced music appears to lead to an instinctive increase in the speed at which subjects perform actions. Revenue was shown to be higher in both the shopping and gambling studies whenever fast-paced music was used.
How Music Affects Slot Machine Gambling
Fast-paced music was shown to reliably increase the rate at which players would attempt to spin the reels whilst playing slots. Every spin takes the same amount of time, but slots featuring faster background music were repeatedly shown to complete a higher number of spins per hour. Slots featuring high-quality music by professional musicians were found to be measurably more popular than those that did not. When surveyed, many gamblers revealed that the sound and music produced by a machine directly affected their perception of the quality of the machine.
This goes a long way to explaining the popularity of Online slots in Pennsylvania featuring artists such as Guns N’ Roses, Jimi Hendrix, Motorhead, and the like. Referring back to the distinct social functions mentioned in the previous section, slots that feature music by acts or bands that a player finds relatable to their own self-identity have been shown to be especially popular.
When we hear music we enjoy, it is unsurprising that our mood is often elevated. If we are walking by a row of slot machines in a casino or amusement arcade, it is once again unsurprising that a game featuring an event, film, television show, or person that resonates with our own personal tastes is the most likely to be the one we will choose.
The Sound of Winning
Different phases of a slot will often feature different pieces of music, too. The music played during the base game will feature a lower volume and tempo than that used during the feature or bonus round. This technique increases the apparent excitement of these harder-to-reach phases of a game and increases players’ desire to keep playing to reach the part of the game that they, and their brain, associate with the highest chances of winning.
The gambling industry has sometimes been criticized for its use of these tactics to encourage players to continue playing, but the truth is that music is used for these same purposes by many other industries too. Gambling, and slot machines in particular, are often demonized and accused of exploiting human psychology. In reality, these machines are simply adhering to known principles and design techniques that have been in regular use for decades.
Music creates ambience, emotion, is tied by our brains to feelings of happiness and sadness, and reminds us of some of our most treasured moments. It is only natural that slot machines make use of these same triggers and feelings – and you would be pressed to find any gambler who would advocate for a ban on slot machine music.