Something this horrific can't possibly be an accident. I mean, it takes genius to come up with something so offensive to the eye. Sure enough, the crazily appalling carpets that adorn Vegas casinos are designed to keep you gambling.
Like some sort of vile afterbirth after a meeting of the 1990s and an insane asylum patient, casino carpets seem to violate every design rule established over, say, the past several thousand years. An art student would probably burst into flames the moment they walked in. But intrepid photographer Chris Maluszynski somehow managed to stare (and wonderfully photograph) a series of shocking casino floors without giving himself a brain hemorrhage, and is showing off his results in a new exhibition, Las Vegas Carpets. Maluszynski concludes that the carpeting isn't just aesthetic torture, but, just like the lack of windows and clocks (and the constant barrage of free booze), is a canny design choice—part of what "defines Vegas as a gambling city."
Dave Schwartz, Director of the Center for Gaming Research (!) at the University of Nevada Las Vegas echoes this observation, claiming that "casino carpet is known as an exercise in deliberate bad taste that somehow encourages people to gamble." Schwartz considers the possibility that the symbolism incorporated into every ghastly square foot encourages us to piss away money on a subconscious level, but really, the trick doesn't seem anywhere so subtle to us. With floors that look like that, who would ever want to let their eyes wander off the games?
UPDATE: Reader Steven Chan contacted me with the following fascinating golden nugget:
I have a friend who teaches at Cornell's famous School of Hotel Administration; she has a lot of casino designer contacts. According to her, the carpets are deliberately designed to obscure and camouflage gambling chips that have fallen onto the floor. The casinos sweep up a huge number of these every night. So the carpets are just another source of revenue.
UPDATE 2: Dun dun DUNN! The plot thickens, with a little bit of Ivy League rivalry! Reader-with-cool-name Ian Banger has a bone to pick with Mr. Chan's theory:
I went to the Hotel School at Cornell (graduated in '08) and have to call bullshit on the sweeping up chips story. Our design professor addressed a whole bunch of the carpet rumors, almost all of which are bogus, especially the hiding of chips on casino floors. The primary use of the wacky patterns is to hide stains and the wear patterns from people walking along the same path all the time. I also asked one of my best friends, who works at the Wynn and went to school with me about it. She responded, "Trust me, if someone drops a chip and can't find it, they're not letting it go. They're coming to me demanding compensation." It's more fun if the evil casino people are trying to nickle and dime you with crazy techniques, but not really accurate.