The reason casinos track your behavior? To lure you into gambling too much

Online culture magazine limn has published a sobering article about how casinos are using hi-tech behavioral profiling of its customers to maximize patron engagement.

Nearly 70% of casino-goers participate in loyalty programs which require them to use player cards instead of coins, paper money, or tickets. This have given casinos the opportunity to do something they've always wanted to: meticulously record and analyse individual gambling behavior to create player profiles. Inspired by airline and credit card reward programs, casinos are now able to record such things as the amount each gambler bets, their wins and losses, and even the rate at which they push slot machine buttons.

Then, by sorting through the data and pumping the information through complex programs, casinos are able to get an overarching sense of their customers — their traits, habits, and preferences, and all broken down into demographic detail. And as a result, they're able to modify and target their offerings accordingly. As an example, it turns out that women under thirty and retired men have similar proclivities when it comes to gambling — a nugget of information that's not lost on the casinos.

Casinos say this all part of the "touch-point collective", a way of telescoping group tastes.

For some casinos, the incoming data is immense — nearly 20,000 behavioral models per second can stream off multiple floors during primetime. Natasha Dow Schüll, the author of the limn article, explains what happens then:

The casino's data cloud, when animated and queried, had rendered visible the fleeting, real-time contours of a behavioral group whose constituents, seated at individual play terminals and immersed in the solitary activity of play, were likely unaware of their kinship. Casino managers attempted to profit from the proclivities of this touch-point collective by carving out a physical space for its members and formally inviting them to gather there-not to socialize, but to continue to interact with their own game screens. Although the players were affiliated by age, gender, game preference, and ultimately a common gathering site, the collective they formed was "virtual" in the sense that it took shape and subsequently became meaningful through casino data analysis and visualization software rather than through self-selection, voluntary participation, or shared experience.

By engaging in what's called "crowd contouring," casinos are able to cater their offerings to specific groups based on animated maps and data analysis that tells them exactly what type of person gambles a certain way, where they're at in the evening, and what they're likely wanting to do next. From Schüll's article:

"Let's say we want to see the profitability of females fifty-five and older. Who are these ladies? Where do they live? How can we target them better?" The representative showed an animated map of an unidentified city, titled "ground floor, little old ladies, carded play time." As the clock in the upper left-hand corner spun, the city flared and pulsed with color, registering the home addresses of older women gamblers as they began and ended sessions of machine play on the ground floor of one casino over the course of a day. In the wee hours, small circles of color dotted the landscape, with red centers indicating the neighborhoods most heavily populated by current onsite players. Starting at 8 a.m., the center of the map dramatically blossomed outward into a bright red flower, reaching maximum size at 11 a.m. and shrinking back in the evening; across the city, discrete pockets of "little old ladies" continued to gamble throughout the night. Armed with this knowledge, the casino was in a position to tailor its offerings to the play schedules and affinities of the market segment in question.

Gamblers are obviously unaware that they're being classified into groups, but they are most definitely participating in the process — sometimes more than they would have wanted to.

Be sure to read Natasha Dow Schüll's fascinating article in its entirety.

Via Mindhacks. Image via Shutterstock/Sergey Mironov.