How online casinos keep you coming back for more

Online casinos want you to be happy.

They’re there to offer you a good time at great convenience, using first class technology for a thrilling experience.

For this service they take reasonably tilt games in their favor, ensuring their offerings payout on average less than they take in. It keeps the lights on, and pays the wages.

If you play perfect strategy at blackjack, for example, that house edge is as low as a half of one percent. Even some slots can hover around the 98-99% mark.

Or they’re not your friend. They’re a cutthroat business where, on average, every game plays in their favor, whittling bankrolls away at a steady rate.

There’s not much you can do about that, apart from learn to play bridge instead.

But online casinos don’t want to make you feel resentful, they want to keep you happy – playing is about fun, after all.

We’ve all heard about ways land-based casinos keep customers at the tables, but online there’s still a number of ‘customer retention’ methods at play.

Here are a few things to keep an eye out for.

Near wins

Where the options for table games are limited, the slot machine is the go to place to keep players engaged.

Any range of payouts can be programmed and the Random Number Generator coded to provide it.

slots jackpot
Slot machine reels can land tantalizingly close to jackpots, keeping you engaged

So, many slots are designed to provide you with that tantalising almost-there taste. Two sevens falling in a row on the reels, and the third slowing down and stopping just one bar up.

Or making it three out of four levels towards a payout before kicking the bottom of the ladder out.

These near misses incite you to play again, after all if you came that close last time, how hard can it be to make it that last little way?

Keep an eye out for this sort of thing and don’t be fooled, a near miss is still a miss. Remember the gambler’s fallacy – just because you’ve been close a few times, doesn’t mean the next spin of the reels is more or less likely to pay out.

Frequent Smaller Payouts

The kissing-cousin to the near win is the frequent but small payout. Paying out $3 every five or six one dollar bets you make is still excellent business for the casino.

Again the table games leave the player in the hands of Hoyle and the other people who designed the original classic casino games.

An example in Starburst of a win that's not a win. The £2 bet yielded a payline worth £1.40. So a loss of £0.60 on that spin.
An example in the Starburst slot of a win that’s not a win. The £2 bet yielded a payline worth £1.40. So a loss of £0.60 on that spin.

But slot machines can be built so the odds of you getting a small payout out are often enough for you to regularly enjoy the thrill of winning. In the example above on Starbust, the payline ‘win’ is actually a £0.60 loss for the player.

Slots still payout big every now and again, but the wait between those would have people quitting from boredom.

Hence why the slot has some ‘juice’ for the player on many of the spins.

But as mentioned, some slots still return about 98 cents in the dollar on average – so that’s not bad for the chance of the big win – particularly if you fancy a life changing sum offered by progressive jackpot slots.

Pavlovian Effects

Dogs come running at the sound of their bowl clattering, cats come when they hear the tin opener.

This sort of conditioning is simple. Take one stimulus (a noise) combine it with a treat (kibble) whenever a behaviour (come running) occurs and after a while you can get that behaviour to happen sans treat.

By combining various musical loops, sound effects, and visual displays with the treat of winning. Casino software conditions you to stay on and enjoy the emotions triggered by the association even when the treat is not forthcoming.

Bells and whistles on slots keep players engaged.

If you manage your bankroll sensibly, however, even using tools on offer by the casinos themselves, you can make sure you are staying within limits.

Bright Lights, Loud Noise

In days past there were even stories of subliminal messages being flashed up on electronic slot machines.

But casinos don’t need to be that underhand to keep you engaged. By setting the mood with colour schemes and noises, they don’t need to go full behaviourist to keep you cheerfully putting money down.

Finn and the Swirly spin does away with spinning reels, and has swirling symbols in a cluster pays format.
Dazzling graphics on modern slots can have you in a whirl.

This is almost so straightforward you don’t notice it when playing.

But make no mistake, every part of the software has been designed to avoid giving you eye strain, keeping you happy, and generally make playing a pleasurable experience.

That’s all part of the service, but the point above stands – stick to your wagering and/or time limits.

Reload Bonuses

Perhaps the most mathematically straightforward way of keeping you coming back is the reload bonus.

It should be obvious to any regular casino player that the multiplier of how much you have to wager, called the wagering requirement, to clear the bonus is designed so that the casino makes the money back on the house edge, on average anyway.

Still, it feels like money left on the table if you don’t clear it, and so casinos regularly offer small reload bonuses to keep you going. They are not to be sniffed at – they do at least extend your gameplay, and give you another chance of winning.

But on average, the casino always has that edge.


Just like any business, online casinos want to retain customers, and so will find ways to make offers appealing, games more fun and the experience generally a positive one.

And that’s all to be welcomed, in many ways.

After all, who want’s a dull slot with a boring soundtrack, crummy graphics and generally a lack of action? Who wants a casino that doesn’t offer you perks and bonuses? Who wants to play games that never seem to offer the tantalising prospect of the big win.

As players, it should be about fun, and maximising your chances of winning. So take care to read the small print on any offers sent your way. Keep track of your bankroll – set budget limits, play games you enjoy, and then you can’t go wrong.

Read our guide to some of the best online casinos, offering the best player experiences.

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