Sleight of the Hand or Something More? The Magic Behind Magic Shows

min read
An illusionist makes a card appear to be floating.
BetMGM Dec 08, 2021, 9:03 AM

You may have a magical experience when you play online casino games, but some of you may be looking for a different kind of magic. Thankfully, for those of you who are looking to be wowed by feats of illusion, there are real magic shows to keep you entertained when you decide to take a break from playing live at a casino online. 

Join us as we take a look at some of the secrets behind magic shows and how great magicians astound us every time they get up on stage.

The magic behind the magic

While we would love to be able to say that magic and illusions are truly a unique and completely inexplicable power that only certain individuals hold, the reality is that it’s a skill that can be developed if you are willing to put in the time and effort. Whether it’s a disappearing object, ropes that you cut and then magically reconnect, or even the ability to saw a person in half, there are different tricks and techniques to fool your audience and make your act seem like you really are able to bend reality. 

The article “This Is How Magic Tricks Actually Work” from Bustle discusses a technique called priming. This is simply putting people into a certain frame of mind so that they are more likely to make certain connections or associations, and it is vital in making your tricks appear like magic. 

“‘We think what may be happening is that people are effectively confusing their expectations with a true sensory experience. … This expectation is so vivid that it can actually be mistaken for a real object,” Tompkins said, according to Science Daily.

“This is hardly the first study to make you question your grasp of reality — eyewitness accounts are notoriously subject to suggestion, and research has shown that it’s dependent on everything from your imagination to the language you grew up speaking. In a 2012 study, researchers even found that the wording of a magic trick can lead you to choose different cards.”

This idea is also explored by the Ars Technica article “Study: Magicians’ priming techniques are effective at influencing choice.” Alice Pailhès, a psychologist at Goldsmiths University of London, has studied how magicians can use certain techniques to influence people, focusing on how British illusionist Derren Brown guides people to think specifically about a 3 of diamonds during his act. 

“To prime the audience member to think of the number 3, Brown asks them to imagine the ‘little numbers down in the corner of the card and in the top.’ As he does so, he rapidly draws 3s in the air, as if on an imaginary card, with his index finger. Finally, he asks the spectator to imagine the ‘things in the middle of the card, the boom, boom, boom, the suits’ while pointing to three imaginary symbols in the air. The entire priming exercise lasts just 15 seconds.”

Pailhès developed a test and found that using Brown’s method resulted in 17.8% of people choosing the 3 of diamonds, 38.9% choosing a 3 from all four suits, and 33.3% choosing a card from the diamond suit. Without priming, people didn’t choose the 3 of diamonds, or even just a 3, anywhere near as often. Considering that she had little experience as a magician or illusionist, Pailhès was surprised at how powerful priming was.

Of course, there is more to magic than card tricks. Magicians have also taken advantage of “gaps” in our visual processing in order to create other exciting tricks. For example, in the article “Tricking the brain: How magic works” on The Conversation website, Gustav Kuhn discusses how illusionists trick people into believing a ball has disappeared. 

“For example, the vanishing ball illusion is one trick that colleagues and I have studied. In this trick, a magician throws a ball in the air a couple of times and then makes it seem to disappear by pretending to throw it again when, in fact, it remains secretly concealed inside his hand. What is surprising about this illusion is that most people – almost two thirds – experience an illusory ball being tossed up in the air at the third throw, even though it never leaves the magician’s hand. We experience this ‘ghost ball’ because we see what we believe is going to happen rather than what has actually taken place. The illusion shows that people perceive things that they believe will happen in the future, even when this belief is completely unfounded.”

Other tricks rely on misdirection to shift the audience’s focus away from something the magician is trying to obscure and to complete the illusion, such as making an object disappear or reappear.

These and other illusions rely on the fact that our brains and eyes aren’t always as perfect as we’d like to think they are, and sometimes our minds use a little creativity to help fill in the parts that we think are missing.

Even if it’s not real, it’s still a lot of fun

There are, of course, many more tricks to discuss, but that would take a lot more time than most of our readers have. For now, these examples highlight the main point that we’re trying to make: that while we’d love these acts to be actual magic, they are usually skilled illusionists, making us believe something, even if it isn’t true.

Even if this is the case, that doesn’t make seeing these masters at work any less exciting, and half the fun is trying to figure out how they did what they did.

Great illusionists to watch at MGM

If you want to be amazed by some of the greatest illusionists alive today, be sure to check out these great magicians at one of MGM’s great venues:

  • The Mac King Comedy Magic Show – Excalibur Hotel & Casino
    Get ready to be amazed by Mac King, a man some may describe as a magical comedian, while others describe him as a hilarious magician. As you may have guessed, his show brings together incredible feats of illusion, all while being packed to the brim with incredible laughs.
  • Shin Lim: LIMITLESS – The Mirage
    The two-time winner of America’s Got Talent, Shin Lim, presents LIMITLESS, a show filled with magic and illusion that will have you questioning whether you can ever trust your eyes again. Lim is not alone in this incredible show, with another America’s Got Talent finalist, Colin Cloud, bringing his incredible mind-reading abilities to an already stellar show.
  • David Copperfield – MGM Grand Las Vegas
    Hailed by many as the greatest illusionist to ever grace a stage, David Copperfield brings his years of experience with magic and illusions, as well as fascinating storytelling, to the MGM Grand. Seeing may be believing, but will this be the case when David Copperfield walks up on stage?

Enjoy great casino gaming at MGM

When you’re done having a great time at one of the incredible magic acts hosted by MGM, be sure to pop into one of our many incredible casinos to experience the magic of casino table games, poker, slots and much more!

And if you’re not at the Las Vegas strip just yet, you can still experience the magic of all the best online casino games at BetMGM. Enjoy all the amazing types of casino games, including online poker and online slots, we have on offer – all you need to do is register at BetMGM.

Actress Vanessa Hudgens flipping casino chips next to the text "The King of Casinos"
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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.