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Identifying Why People Visit Casinos: What Purpose Does It Have?

The global casino gaming market grew from $99.88 billion in 2006 to $182.77 billion in 2015, and the gross gaming yield of the global casino market in 2019 is expected to be $130 billion. Despite the growing trend of online gaming, physical casinos yielded roughly 90% of total gaming gross worldwide. Therefore, it is plausible to put forth that physical casinos continue to be a significant attraction for gamblers around the world. In relation, there are several underlying motivations that attract visitors to casinos, which arguably go beyond the extrinsic goal of making a profit. In order to better identify these motivations, it is necessary to categorize visitors in terms of their gambling behaviors. Research shows that regular gamblers with addictive behavior visit casinos mainly for financial gain and prestige, while recreational visitors seek entertainment and leisure, socialization, and an escape from their problems.

To begin with, there appears to be two main types of casino visitors in terms of their gambling behavior: regular gamblers and recreational gamblers. While the former group is identified with their frequent and extensive gambling behavior with primarily financial motivations, the latter typically engages in gambling infrequently, defined by hedonistic motivations. As such, Ma and Lai found in their study of regular and recreational visitors to casinos in Macau that while adventure, relaxation, prestige, and profit-making were primary motivations to regular gamblers, recreational gamblers (mostly referring to tourists) were mainly motivated by leisure and not by the motivations of regular gamblers. Note that a vast majority of casino gamblers are recreational visitors. For instance, in their research on the individual-level casino gambling behaviors, Narayanan and Manchanda found that only 8% of casino gamblers indicated addictive behavior, while the rest were primarily motivated by entertainment.

Firstly, socialization (including but not limited to meeting new people and engaging in activities with friends or spouses in casinos) was identified as a primary motivation for casino gamblers by various studies. Given that casinos worldwide provide an environment for social interactivity for individuals and groups, they may be perceived and utilized by visitors as a means to socialize. Such social interactions may range from casual chats with strangers at play tables to attending events with colleagues or friends organized by the casino resorts. For instance, Hinch (with a sample size of 1,202 respondents) found that doing things with companions and spending time with members of one’s group were among the leading motivations for casino visits. Likewise, a study conducted between 17 and 18 September 2009 in the United States on 1,521 respondents revealed that most (82%) of casino visitors went to casinos with companions (76% with a friend or spouse, 32% with a group of friends, and 11% with a co-worker).

Interestingly, a considerable number of research focused on the socialization-enabling environment of casinos for senior citizens in particular. Assuming that seniors are retired and that their social spheres are narrow (i.e., due to the loss of their friends and partners), casinos may offer a viable environment for them to socialize. Hagen, Nixon, and Solowoniuk suggest that in addition to in-casino activities, the journey to the casino was also the main facilitator for socializing that attracts senior visitors. In that sense, it is feasible to assert that socialization is a leading motivation for recreational (and particularly senior) gamblers to visit casinos.

Secondly, entertainment is also among the top motivations for recreational casino gamblers. Note that most casino resorts offer a variety of amenities and facilities such as restaurants, bars, and concert halls. In that sense, the typical casino environment is a multi-sensory atmosphere with flashing lights, singing slot machines, the smell of cigarette smoke, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, and the feeling of exhilaration, which arguably form the entertainment element of the casino experience. The variety of in-casino entertainment activities that attract visitors encompass shopping, eating, nightlife, and sightseeing. Therefore, it is possible to argue that casino visitors are not solely motivated by gambling, but that there are a variety of attractions that motivate casino visitors, such as having fun and seeking excitement.

Similar to the social dimension of casinos, various studies found that a considerable majority of senior casino visitors valued entertainment and fun as strong motivators for visiting casinos. Similarly, Martin et al. conducted a longitudinal study on 247 urban elders’ motivations for casino gambling revealing that seniors were motivated more by intrinsic factors (e.g., entertainment) than by extrinsic factors (e.g., financial gain). Additionally, affordable foods and drinks and other forms of entertainment available at casinos may be important attractions for retired seniors with limited monthly incomes.

All in all, for most recreational casino gamblers, the motivation for financial gain appears to be inferior to non-gambling motivations like socialization and entertainment. As a matter of fact, a study indicated that “the mean reported expenditure on all non-gambling casino activities equaled $326.60, as opposed to $321.60 on all ‘gambling’ activities” (IPSOS, 2009, 3). Also note that the same study revealed that among the most significant incentives to casino visits were promotional offers like a free night in the casino hotel and free tickets to events and live performances at the casino complex. Thus, it is possible to claim that the non-gambling related activities, facilities, and motivations are relatively more important for the typical recreational casino gamblers for their casino visits.

In conclusion, there appears to be a variety of motivations that attract individuals to casinos. In identifying individuals’ motivations to visit casinos, it is first necessary to categorize them by their gambling behaviors, mainly by separating regular and recreational gamblers. Given that regular and recreational casino gamblers have starkly different motivations to visit casinos (regular gamblers motivated mostly by financial gain and recreational gamblers by socialization and entertainment), it is plausible to assert that there is no single reason that applies to all casino visitors. In the end, the motivations for individuals to visit casinos might be determined by a variety of factors and motivations, such as their gambling behaviors, age, and social needs.

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