You should read this MIT News article about addiction researcher Natasha Schull’s groundbreaking research on gambling addiction. Excerpt:
Now, in her new book, Addiction by Design, published this month by Princeton University Press, Schull delves into the lives of such gamblers. In particular, she looks at compulsive machine gamblers — not the folks playing social games around a table, such as poker, but those who play alone at electronic slot-machine terminals. For a small percentage of the population, these games become an all-consuming pursuit, a way of shutting out the world and its problems for long, long stretches of time.
But eventually, most compulsive machine gamblers recognize the hold that high-tech gaming has come to have over them. As one gambling addict told Schull: “I could say that for me the machine is a lover, a friend, a date, but really it’s none of those things; it’s a vacuum cleaner that sucks the life out of me, and sucks me out of life.”
Schull thinks this point — that for machine gamblers, it’s not about the money, but the escape into the “zone,” as Mollie and other gamblers call it — has eluded politicians who wrangle over casino openings and expansions throughout the United States, where more than 30 states currently have some form of legalized machine gambling.
“It’s a real stumbling block for policymakers to understand that,” Schull says. She adds: “Everyone believes the harm is how much money is spent, and that what’s driving the compulsive gamblers is a desire to make money. But … the ‘zone’ is really what’s driving this experience. The idea of winning money falls away when you get to the point of addiction.”
Scholars who have read the book praise its exploration of the psyche of gamblers. Tanya Luhrmann, an anthropologist at Stanford University, lauds the way it “captures the intense relationship between humans and machines that is so much part of what people call the addiction experience.” Luhrmann adds that until reading Addiction by Design, she “hadn’t realized gambling was so much about the experience” of playing, rather than winning.
Schull’s research had attracted considerable attention well in advance of the book’s publication: She has appeared on “60 Minutes” and testified about the subject in front of the Massachusetts state legislature.
Yet Schull holds off on offering specific regulatory remedies concerning the way games should be structured. In some countries, legislators have suggested slowing down the pace of electronic slot machines to stretch out payoffs and water down the intensity of the experience — a technological fix Schull calls “wrongheaded” because it may simply encourage gamblers to play for longer periods using an equal amount of money.
Machine gambling, Schull emphasizes, “is not like buying a movie ticket or making a purchase at a store and then going home. This is rapid, fast, continuous spending where people lose track of time and space, and their ability to make decisions shifts over the course of the encounter.”
Instead, Schull asks, “Given the nature of this product and this interface, shouldn’t policymakers, state legislatures, be learning a little bit more about how this product affects people?” She adds: “I think my work is part of an emerging conversation.”