ATLANTIC CITY — Gamblers might not realize it, but city casinos are priming them to gamble — and feel good about it — from the moment they step into their climate-controlled lobbies.
Casinos such as the Golden Nugget Atlantic City infuse the air with a subtle smell of tea and lemongrass that is designed to stimulate their olfactory senses even as they gaze upon the colorful chandeliers and take in the pop music playing over the speakers.
More and more, retailers, hotels and resorts are hoping to lead customers by their noses, even if customers are only subliminally aware of this marketing manipulation.
“It started as a concept in the 1970s in casinos in Las Vegas,” said Jennifer Dublino, spokeswoman for the Scent Marketing Institute, a trade group based in Scarsdale, N.Y.
“Their immediate need was to cover up the malodor of cigarette smoke and stale smells. But they realized by doing that, people stayed longer because it smelled pleasant,” she said. “And when they stayed longer, they spent more money.”
Now smell is a routine consideration for high-end retailers, hotels and Atlantic City casinos. Increasingly, Dublino said, small businesses are taking scent into consideration.
Providing these smells to hotels, boutiques and spas is an estimated $200 million global industry, she said.
“It’s been growing exponentially,” she said. “Our annual conference called Scent World was 60 percent larger last year than the year before.”
One provider, Scent Air, based in Charlotte, N.C., is expanding its presence in southern New Jersey. Its clients include Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and national hoteliers Westin Hotels, Holiday Inn Hotels and Sheraton Hotels.
In Atlantic City, the company helps casinos such as Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort and Tropicana Casino and Resort choose scents designed to create a pleasing atmosphere, said Scent Air spokesman Ryan Schloss, of Philadelphia.
“Our business is to help their business create a good first impression,” he said.
His company offers thousands of fragrances, which can be diffused through a property’s ventilation systems or placed at discrete locations such as the hallway leading to a fine-chocolate store — where the scent can suggest chocolate in customers’ minds even before they see the store.
The company’s patented delivery systems, which cost $59 to $109 per month to maintain, disperse microscopic particles of fragrance. The goal is to provide a consistent experience for guests from day to day, Schloss said.
The company’s retail clients in Atlantic City include Hugo Boss, Nautica and Rockport, along with hotels such as Holiday Inn and Sheraton.
The company targets a variety of industries, including hotels and casinos, property managers and daycare and assisted-living centers.
Schloss said pleasing smells are not designed to mask unpleasant ones.
“If a child needs to be changed, you can’t just ignore it and spray him with Febreze,” he said. “But when people are looking for day care or assisted-living options, they want it to smell clean and nice.”
Schloss said this marketing is less effective if the scent is incongruous with the setting, tipping off the customers that something is amiss.
His company suggests employing the smell of hot apple pies for property managers who lease apartments, an ocean fragrance for spas or hotels, and eucalyptus mint for gyms and health clubs.
Studies have found that customers spend more time shopping in stores that smell nice, he said. It’s a trick ScentAir client Disney World has picked up to add a little extra touch to its attractions.
“When you walk into Strawberry Shortcake Village, it smells like strawberries,” he said.
And more doctors and dentists are infusing their waiting rooms with scents designed to put their patients at ease, he said.
Schloss said his company is going after bigger clients right now. But he thinks small businesses can learn a trick or two from the big chains as well.
The Golden Nugget, next to the New Jersey State Marina, wanted to give visitors a full sensory experience when the former Trump Marina rebranded its property in April, said Senior Vice President of Operations Don Browne.
“What intrigued us is when you go to a spa and you get that great first impression based on scent,” he said. “Smell is your strongest sense. If you close your eyes and it smells wonderful, you’ll have a great impression.”
The casino worked with ScentAir to develop its own signature scent, a combination of green tea and lemongrass.
“Immediately upon walking in our door, we want visitors to know the Golden Nugget is fresh, it’s alive. It’s invigorating.”
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