Wynn-ing Ways: Delivering Reader Wins through Understanding Gambling Psychology

The psychology of winning

Remember that Steve Wynn told me that the Wynn was about changing the focus from outward to inward. Focus on the customer experience rather than being a carnival barker trying to get the rubes into the sideshow.

Marketing focused on customer experience is an essential change to how you market, but it doesn’t mean that modern casinos have given up on the old carnival ways. Many of the old carnie tricks are so reliable and tied to our psychology that they continue to exploit them.

I base a part of my thesis on Libet’s research, which validates that even voluntary actions start from the subconscious. This means that much of what we say and do begins in our fast-thinking instinctual system.

Another way of saying this is the words of Archilochos…

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training.”

The facts are the facts. We follow patterns and are easily triggered to repeat behaviors that give us short-term satisfaction in our lizard brains. We fall to our base behavior patterns in times of stress or boredom.

Mindless doom scrolling through Facebook or Instagram is a behavior. Although rooted in boredom, it has a short-term payoff. Libet would say that before you picked up the phone to scroll, your unconscious behavior patterns triggered the idea and movements out of instinct and the certain dopamine payoff.

In Las Vegas, they say the entire town could be profitable running just off the slot machines.

Casino owners hire behavioral psychologists, physicists, statisticians, and mathematicians to figure out the optimal way to get the most people to sit in front of the machine for as long as possible.

They are masters of tilting the odds in their favor.

They are subconsciously setting a scene to influence your behavior.

Next time you’re in a casino, look at the posters.

The ones lining the hallways from the parking garage are the best place to start.

The posters are of a person holding a giant cardboard check, and they share how this person won at a particular game.

Now you might think, why advertise when they have the mark at the door?

That’s only the first step. The casino still doesn’t have any money on a table or going into a machine.

They could be here just to eat at our cheap buffet (free books). We need them to sit down at a machine and play.

The poster provides a subliminal message of the possibility of winning.

What the posters show are ordinary people who, in some respects, may be visually below average. Certainly not sexy young models, just average Joes.

You walk by and relate that it’s just an average guy or gal who won.

If they won, I could win.

The poster shows average Joe won $5,000 playing three card poker or $10,000 playing a slot machine. Only a few advertisements will highlight the huge wins.

There is a psychology behind those numbers.

It shows a win within your reach. A possibility of a win that wouldn’t be life-changing, but it would make things better. You imagine a higher probability because the winnings were smaller—a relatable number like paying off your car.

Finally, the poster is proof. That average Joe could come in and win. It shows his name and where they are from, like you could hang out in that town and run into him.

You’re more likely to find him sitting at one of the slot machines, trying to win again.

Slot machines have changed over the years.

They’re no longer just machines with a few wheels randomly tumbling to a result.

Now, multiple games are happening at once. Progressive pots and other tricks to get you to up the amount you play per round while tracking your average play and length of play.

They even have removed actual coins from the process but simulate coin payouts when you win…

And it’s all run on a microchip.

Now, when you’re in a casino next time, pay attention to what their slot payout is for the casino. They will proclaim they are the loosest slots in town. That means they pay out a bunch of money.

And the further off the strip the casino is, the more they’ll talk about their payout.

It’ll be in the high 90th percentile—something like 99 or 98% payout, meaning for every dollar that goes into a machine 98 cents is paid out.

The machine’s program does all this work. Payouts are random over time and amount, but the machine keeps 2 cents of every dollar.

If you have a process that makes money this way where there’s a consistent return, albeit small, your aim is to get as many people as possible sitting in front of those machines for as long as possible.

They work hard on the randomization.

They randomize the time between and the size of payouts. This is legal because it is the basis of gambling, but it’s also the basis of operant conditioning.

Just like the social payoffs you get on social media.

While it’s OK for them to set a fixed amount of money to pay out, there’s one thing against the law.

It’s called the near-miss effect

Dixon (2004) researched the effects of observing a near miss.

A near miss is when the winning jackpot combination almost happens. Let’s say three cherries in a row designate a jackpot 🍒🍒🍒.

You see 🍒🍒 lock-in, then the third cherry slowly spins by to lock in on 🍒🍒💎. You don’t get the big payout.

They observed that psychologically, we see that near miss as a signal we are close to the big win.

A near miss has a magnetic effect of keeping us at that machine longer because we perceive the machine is just about to hit the jackpot.

Maybe there was some truth to this in days gone by, but in today’s world, this is all electronic.

What looks like spinning is a simulation.

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One reason that pulling a reader from social media is so much work is just like a slot machine has randomized payoffs; social media provides randomized payoffs of information and social status.

Like the casino bosses, tech companies want you to stay in front of the machine for as long as possible, driving the attention trance superhighway on cruise control.

Casinos use a third system to keep you sticking around.

The loyalty system.

One thing the old man told me on that first Vegas trip was don’t be a sucker for the comps. That’s the slang for complimentary services a casino provides gamblers.

The system is more than just giving you points and complimentary services designed to make you feel like a winner. Whales (high-limit gamblers) get exclusive suites and premium treatment.

What’s more diabolical is that they center most of the perks you get around the casino: free or discount meals at the restaurants, shorter lines for shows or the buffet, select areas to gamble, and complimentary stays at the hotel. All things to make you feel special, but in the end, get you back to the poker machine or the blackjack table as fast as possible.

I’ve got a buddy I’ll call Jack (not his actual name), another Chicago native who has been going out to Vegas for years.

He’s all about the comps. It’s funny because he always jokes about what the comp dinner really costs him when he bakes in his losses.

As much as he jokes, he falls for the gambit.

All of this work is done to get the gambler to keep coming back and sit in front of a machine for hours.

This isn’t coercion. If you interviewed my friend Jack, he would say there is nothing better he would like to do with his time, so why go to all this trouble?

Because a gambler can’t remain in the gambling state 100% of the time. The gambler has to go about their life, and then the battle begins again to get them back into the casino.

How to apply this to your publishing business

In my previous article, I talked about getting a person to take your off-ramp and exit the superhighway of boredom.

I suggested that a shorter path could be to move them from the feed to the group on the same platform as a path with less friction.

Another way is to use curiosity to move them to your platform.

To move them to a website you own where you have control of the experience. Your casino.

This isn’t about direct sales but a way to build rapport with those interested in becoming a superfan. Most people will be casual readers, but if you get 1,000 loyal fans, you have the community to supercharge cumulative advantage.

This doesn’t have to be a membership site or Facebook group alternative. It can be a place to let your readers explore and feel special.

Look to create a transmedia experience where your community serves as a place to congregate, educate, and allow individuals to explore their connection with you and, most notably, other fans.

This is where you can hang your posters showing them that average Joes win at your casino.

What is winning?

The jackpot—they seek a great story experience.

You can create places where your readers are attracted to spend time when not reading—a place to explore and learn more about why they should read your books.

A place where they have a haven from the attention abusers and where they feel like they are using their time better.

Systematize how you move someone onto your platform and give them a QUICK WIN.

Do you have time for a quick [insert genre] story?

Then, drop them right on a page with a quick story in your story world.

Don’t ask for an email. Just deliver the best 1,000-word story you can.

After that, give them another behavior that delivers a win—operant conditioning to your story experience. Let curiosity be the guide and provide them with the autonomy to explore.

Of course, there will be times to ask them for an email or to buy a book, but let them opt in as they explore your site.

There is a marketing gambit where you ask a bunch of questions, the obvious answer of which is yes.

Do you like money?

Do you like freedom?

Then buy my course…

The series of yes answers makes it more likely for you to say yes to the course.

This isn’t what I’m talking about.

Give a prospect the freedom to explore your content and lore and opt in when they’re ready.

They will get those seven to ten touches and warm up to what you offer.

The risk of trying a new author will drop, and they will anticipate what comes next.

Best of all, this will be passive and on their time frame.

In the next article, we’ll discuss the idea of exploration. We will move away from trying to trigger readers unconsciously and give you some more ways to get them to seek your story world actively.

Read: Leveraging Insights from Rat Case Studies for Increased Reader Satisfaction