Las Vegas Sun

July 25, 2014

Currently: 91° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

HOW VEGAS WORKS:

The man behind casinos’ scent science

Mark Peltier, president of AromaSys, says smell is a powerful sense, and Strip resorts hire him to capitalize on it

Why do casinos smell like they do? No, not the smell of menthols, sticky drinks and desperation. That’s everywhere. Rather, why does the Bellagio smell like the Bellagio and why does the Venetian smell like an old man who has been wearing the same cologne for 40 years and steadily adding more as his tolerance grows?

The simple answer is that there are metal devices the size of breadboxes attached to the ventilation systems of nearly every Strip resort. The boxes vaporize highly aromatic and shockingly expensive oils into the ducts, where the airflow dilutes and distributes them. The first such systems in Las Vegas were installed at the Mirage in 1991 by Mark Peltier, president of a company called AromaSys. Since then, the systems have spread up and down the Strip — and now Peltier has competitors.

Why would anything so profit-minded as a casino bother?

It’s because humans are wired so that smell is a weird and powerful sense. Smell and its sister sense, taste, have quick access to your emotional conditioning, your sexual urges and your memories. It’s why the smell of a familiar dish can transport you to your mother’s kitchen or a perfume can return you to a lover’s arms. It’s also why many neuroscience papers include pretentious little Proust quotes.

You can see why it’s so tempting to use scents in a casino.

But smell is tricky. It’s not that everyone smells something differently — scents are the same volatile chemical compounds for everyone. The problem is, smell is tied up with your memories. For instance, Peltier has a good friend who loves the smell of skunk because the first time she smelled it, she was on a pleasant trip to her grandmother’s house. Every time she smells skunk, she remembers that day and is happy.

“There’s no expression in our genes that says you will like this smell and not the other,” Peltier says. Still, Peltier has some guidelines that work for most people most of the time. Citrus smells are refreshing. Floral smells are relaxing. Herbaceous smells are usually relaxing but can also be invigorating, especially peppermint. Cedar and other wood smells relax and soothe. By blending these odors, Peltier and his competitors evoke moods or environments.

The environments vary throughout hotels, from lobbies to spas to casinos. In most of the world, Peltier and AromaSys try to make the hotels smell like the ideal version of their location, so that in South Florida he uses citrus scents, and at a Colorado ski resort, he’ll use woodsy scents. But in Las Vegas, each resort supplied by AromaSys has a signature theme. The Mirage smells Polynesian, Mandalay Bay smells Southeast Asian and the Bellagio has the scent of Northern Italy. The Wynn and Encore “are very unusual. You may never smell anything like that in the world.”

“Mr. Wynn,” Peltier says, “has extraordinary sensory ideas and knows what he wants. It’s more of a co-creative process with him.”

And the Venetian, Mr. Peltier — who is responsible for that smell?

Well, AromaSys is. It’s called “Seduction” and features a significant amount of musk and is described as “strong, soothing and sensuous.”

“I actually think it’s turned up a little too strong, but the management insists on it being that way and actually kind of resented me offering my opinion,” Peltier says, before adding that the Venetian is a “great and loyal customer.”

“They sell a lot of it as room sprays and candles, so what do I know?”

This story also appears in the current issue of Las Vegas Weekly, a sister publication.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

No trusted comments have been posted.