The House Always Wins: How the Gambling Industry Preys on Addiction

“The only way to win in a casino is to own one.”
-Steve Wynn, Casino owner/developer[1]

Predatory:  adj. “unconscionable practices that take advantage of the vulnerable.”

The casino industry has addiction down to a science. The casino industry has whole teams of workers who study problem gamblers and the science of addiction to learn how exactly they can best market their products to the people most likely to become addicted.[2]

Casinos make up to 90% of their profits from 10% of the players[3]. Slot machines take credit cards, not coins, and are designed so players can make hundreds of bets per minute – giving players a buzz similar to cocaine.[4] Quite simply, if people were not addicted to their product, casinos would not be profitable.

The goal of slot machines is to get gamblers to play longer, faster, more intensively and to “play to extinction.” Everything, from the sounds the machines make to the timing and frequency of payoffs, are all carefully designed to maximize the amount of time people sit at a machine, encouraging players to spend until they have nothing left.[5]

Predatory slots are not like interactive, social gambling games like bingo, Friday night poker games, or office sports pools. The state sponsors more than enough regressive gambling with the Lottery. Slots take the word “predatory” to a new level: at least the lottery can’t be purchased with credit cards; can’t put liens on someone’s home; does not serve alcohol 24/7; and does not actively seek out and market to scratch ticket addicts.

Casinos aggressively market to problem gamblers. They collect extensive information about their most frequent customers, and use statistical models to predict when targeted customers will gamble and how much they will spend – and base their marketing accordingly.[6] In Illinois, a casino was fined $800,000 for marketing to problem gamblers who had voluntarily banned themselves from entering a casino by placing themselves on a self-exclusion list.[7]

Slot machines are highly addictive, much more addictive than any other form of gambling. Today’s predatory slots are meticulously designed computers, generating precise profits, deliberately creating a false sense of near wins and regular small payoffs that create an illusion of sporting chance.

[1] Interview with 60 Minutes, July 26, 2009. http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=5189493n&tag=related;photovideo

[2] Schull, Natasha. Oral Testimony before Committee on Economic Development, March 18, 2008. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cH4ccu0WEsM&feature=player_embedded#t=315

[3] Binkley, Christina. Winner Takes All. 2008. page 184.

[4] Breiter, Dr. Hans. Director, Massachusetts General Hospital Motivational and Emotional Neuroscience Center. Testimony before Massachusetts Senate Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. June 2009.

[5] Schull, Natasha Dow. “Written Version of Testimony Delivered at the Hearing on Gambling Addiction.” October 31, 2007. Boston State House.

[6] Binkley, Christina. Winner Takes All. 2008. Page 184.

[7] Tita, Bob. “Casino fined $800k for marketing to banned gamblers.” Chicago Business. May 19, 2008.

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