Fieldwork reveals how slot machines are exploiting people
Natasha Dow Schüll has been on fieldwork in Las Vegas among gamblers and the designers of the slot machines. Her book Machine Life: Control and Compulsion in Las Vegas will be published by Princeton University Press in early 2009.
Her research, she writes has been “focused on a dramatic turn that has taken place in recent decades from social forms of gambling played at tables to asocial forms played alone at video terminals". The machines are designed to exploit aspects of human psychology:
Without the presence of social elements such as other players or a live dealer, they are able to exit the world and enter a state where everything fades away. (…) Players enter what’s known as the “machine zone,” where even winning stops mattering; in fact, it can be unwelcome because it interrupts the flow of play. Such players only stop when their credits are consumed.
What revenue slot machines do generate comes not from entertaining but exploiting people. Should the government, whose role is to protect its citizens, become a partner in this ethically dubious enterprise?
To Salon.com she says that the industry has successfully defined the terms of gambling addiction: It’s telling that we speak about problem gamblers, but not problem machines, problem environments, or problem business practices.
The anthropologist has put three papers on her Las Vegas research online (pdf):