The Sweet Smell of Winning – How Certain Aromas Keep You Gambling

By J.W. Paine
Published on April 13, 2019
How Casinos Are Using Aromas

Casino resorts may use dancing fountains, erupting volcanos, and even battling pirates to get you into their lobby.

But they do even more to welcome you inside — including providing a subtle but definite fragrance to enhance your entrance.

Surprising to some, our sense of smell is quite discerning, not because we have sniffers ed classes in high school or Odd Smellers Clubs in every village but because our ancestors used it to survive.

The smell of the woolly mammoth was quite different from the saber-toothed tiger, for example, which meant that the nose-deaf hunter was just as likely to be a happy meal for some carnivore rather than the proud provider of tasty food for his village.

Our sense of smell, then, helped us survive.

Your eyes and fingers may be your primary ways of interacting with online casinos, but these days your nose belongs to the brick-and-mortar casino.

Lizard Brains and Grizzly Bear Noses

Every odor you have ever sensed is linked to one or more memories.

Why does the smell of baked bread improve a house’s chance of selling quickly? Why do hundred-dollar bills smell like the inside of a purse? And by the way — who’s been smelling the insides of purses? Not me, I can tell you that much. And whoever told you that is a damned liar.

Our sense of smell is incredibly powerful. Neil Simon wrote a popular play (later adapted to a motion picture) where sense of smell played a prominent role in the love lives of three New Yorkers.

Pretty sure it was called Taxi.

Speaking of the importance of smell and movies, back in the early 1960s, there was an attempt to introduce “Smell-O-Vision” into theaters, whereby viewers would be “treated” to up to 30 different smells to enhance the movie’s narrative drive.

Unsurprisingly, Smell-O-Vision failed immediately. To paraphrase Melanie Griffith’s character in Working Girl: “Nobody ever went broke underestimating what Americans want to smell.”

The Nose Knows

Until recently, scientists believed that the human olfactory system could differentiate between around 10,000 odors, which by itself is pretty dang impressive. The latest research, however, says that number is incorrect — the human nose can actually discern about a trillion different odors.

White bread smells different from wheat bread. Wheat bread smells different from wheat toast, which is different from burnt toast, which is different from buttered toast. And don’t even get me started on jellies, jams, and marmalades.

Oh, don’t worry. I’m not going to list the trillion different smells you can identify with your nose alone. But I will note that several hundred of the more unpleasant ones appear to be coming from my laundry hamper. Note to self: Gas station sushi is not my friend.

So, let’s just agree that our sense of smell is almost as miraculous as our sense of sight. It is so powerful that it has even expanded into sense of taste’s territory. Nobody ever asks you “Does this look bad to you?” No. It’s always “Does this smell bad to you?” Case closed. The science is settled. Smell wins by a nose!

Of course, once we’ve discovered this superpower (and we didn’t even have to get bitten by a radioactive stink-bug), our very next thought is, inevitably, how can we make a buck off this?

Unfortunately, dogs have already nailed down all the plum drug-sniffing and escaped-convict-tracking jobs (strong union).

Well, like philosophy majors, we’ll either have to take that job at Starbucks, or we have to find a job with the government — which pays better, but on the downside, all your co-workers are government employees. I know, right?

Unfortunately, there is no Federal Department of Does This Smell Funny to You (at least not at the Cabinet level), but there is a place for us: the commercial scent market. These companies create fragrances designed for one specific purpose: to attract people on a wholesale basis by — you guessed it — leading them around by the nose.

Follow the (Smell of) Money

Commercial fragrances are, unsurprisingly, a huge business, with some commercial fragrance companies boasting corporate offices in the USA, France, the UK, the Netherlands, China, Hong Kong, and Australia.

Casinos started injecting fragrance into their air a few decades ago mostly to mask the odor of cigarette smoke and the veritable stew of smells humans exude whenever they’re gathered tightly into warm, enclosed spaces (I’ll just leave it at that, m’kay).

These days, the ventilation system of your favorite casino contains a boxlike apparatus that diffuses the resort’s chosen signature fragrance into the air being pumped onto the casino floor as well as the hotel lobby.

The archetype for this sort of machine was first installed in the ventilation system of The Mirage back in the early ‘90s.

In the following decades, that breadbox-sized gizmo evolved into hefty computerized “nebulizers” that inject precise amounts of biodegradable fragrance into industrial ventilation systems moving millions of cubic feet of air through most of the casino-resorts in Vegas and elsewhere.

You can even get a much smaller version of the commercial nebulizer for your home or small business. Think of it. Your home could smell like baked bread or cookies baking in the oven all the time. Your tax-preparation office could smell like a McDonald’s restaurant. Hey, your McDonald’s restaurant could smell like a tax-preparation office!

On second thought…

Passing the Smell Test

While the smell-memory link is such a personal one (in that a particular smell can trigger “good” memories in some but “bad” memories in others) and is therefore unpredictable, scientists have discovered some scents that almost always create feelings of well-being, and unsurprisingly, these fragrances make up the majority of the arsenal of fragrances used by casinos.

To most humans, the smell of citrus is refreshing (lemon-freshened Borax, anyone?). Floral smells are subtly relaxing. Herbal scents are likewise relaxing, but some, such as peppermint, can also be invigorating. And what about woodsy? Who doesn’t enjoy the smell of a forest?

Notice anything about all of these fragrances?

They all relate to vegetation. Organic, earthy, somehow even idyllic. It’s remarkable what odors can recall, and perhaps these odors speak to a hidden atavistic part of our brains that secretly longs for a return to those distant Neanderthal days of running and screaming in order to escape the many apex predators that resented our presence in their forest and viewed us as little more than noisy Happy Meals.

Sorry, that took a rather unpleasant turn, didn’t it?

Not all the signature scents are “organic.” The Venetian features (or used to) a fragrance they call “Seduction.” A rather uncharitable Las Vegas Sun reporter likened the smell of Seduction to that of “an old man who has been wearing the same cologne for 40 years and steadily adding more as his tolerance grows.”

That is poetry, my friends.

Which brings us (rather clumsily, I admit) to unplanned ambient fragrances at resort-casinos.

Take the South Point, for example. This resort casino on the outskirts of Vegas hosts numerous horse and rodeo events throughout the year, so it is not uncommon to smell the faint (and sometimes not-so-faint) odor of that stuff horses produce in astonishing qualities. I’m talking about, of course, horse-sweat. Oh, yeah, and that other stuff, too.

For me (raised on a ranch), that smell is very comforting, as homey to me as the smell of baked bread at home. The horse-sweat and manure fragrance recalls long summer days riding mountain trails with my buddies, or sometimes alone (except for the horse, of course, with whom I could have the most interesting conversations — well, one of us thought they were interesting).

Where was I? Ah, yes, the smell of horse-sweat and manure at South Point.

That smell might be attractive to me (and probably to the thousands of cowboys and cowgirls who attend South Point’s many equine shows and exhibitions), but to the average denizen of Los Angeles, it might be repulsive and abhorrent.

On second thought, the fragrance at South Point might not be unplanned at all.

How better to encourage your target demographic to stay, while keeping those not in your target demographic far away? Just fill your casino with a smell that the former finds delightful but which the latter flees in disgust. Brilliant!

Well played, South Point. Well played.

Meanwhile, Not Back at the Ranch…

Let’s return to the smells that the casinos actually intend to introduce into the air.

The fragrance a resort uses can be attractive in its own right, offering just that tiny bit of additional urging to lure gamblers into the casino. But the scent can also trigger happy memories of previous visits to the casino. If you frequent casinos at all, chances are you can tell me what that casino’s lobby smells like.

Pop quiz. Match the fragrance to the casino that employs it:

  • A. Cocoa butter
  • B. Northern Italy (yeah, I know, but that’s what they claim)
  • C. Orange, pineapple, coconut, and jasmine
  • D. Nose-deaf old man still trying to be a chick magnet
  • E. Mandarin orange, jasmine, and cyclamen
  • F. Salt sea air with a hint of mandarin orange
  • G. Guess That Smell (amalgamation of scents selected by the casino’s CEO)
  • H. Vanilla, jasmine, lily, and tuberose
  • 1. Mirage
  • 2. Cosmopolitan
  • 3. Caesars Palace
  • 4. Mandalay Bay
  • 5. Venetian
  • 6. Wynn
  • 7. Bellagio
  • 8. MGM Grand

Answers: A-4, B-7, C-1, D-5, E-3, F-2, G-6, H-8

Incidentally, the Venetian actually changed their fragrance back in 2013 from “nose-deaf old man” to something called Essence di Venezia, which doesn’t smell like “nose-deaf old man.” Probably. Too bad. It made for great stories to tell the folks back home in Nebraska.

Also by the way: Most of the casinos employing fragrance in their ventilation also offer these scents as colognes and perfumes for personal use. In addition to the Venetian’s Essence di Venezia, the Cosmo sells Desert Breeze, while the Mirage has its Tropical Coco Mango.

Or would Madam prefer Bellagio’s Blue Ice? Caesars Palace’s The Empire, perhaps? Maybe Mandalay Bay’s Coconut Spice, or even some Asian Garden from MGM Grand. Check your favorite casino’s gift shop for details.

Smell You Later

Before I sign off, here are a couple of great ideas I‘ve had for new fragrances just waiting for some wise, upscale, wealthy casino to license from me for mere pennies a day. Plus a modest finder’s fee, of course.

Puppy breath. Come on — who doesn’t like the smell of puppy breath? Okay, I’ve got other ideas… What about high-octane gasoline? Love that smell. Huh? Nix on that one, too? Okay. I’ll keep my grind to the nosestone. Heh-heh. Get it? I kill me.

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The Sweet Smell of Winning – How Certain Aromas Keep You Gambling
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The Sweet Smell of Winning – How Certain Aromas Keep You Gambling
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Casinos will do a lot to attract your patronage, including mimicking plants that use fragrance to attract bees. I explain more in this post.
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