Caring About All the Small People…


The photo above was taken in the parking lot of the Casino Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario Canada.

Acknowledging the reality that children are routinely abandoned in casino parking lots, Senator Jack Hart (First Suffolk) of the Senate Ways and Means Committee has suggested that legislation to expand gambling in Massachusetts include requirements for video camera surveillance in casino lots and parking garages.

When he heard about the two children left in a Foxwoods casino parking garage last week I wondered if Senator Hart’s first thought was, “See… there you go.  The system works.”

Except it doesn’t.

Police reports across the county show that children are not only abandoned in casino parking lots while their parents or caregivers gamble – they’re also being locked in trunks, abandoned in hotel corridors, in shopping malls, and in cars on side streets around casinos and slot parlors. In searing heat and freezing cold, many of these children, if found at all, require emergency care, often having to be “revived” at the scene. And these are only the cases that make it to the news – and don’t count the young children and infants left home alone.

“He didn’t realize that an hour had passed. He was only going to run in for about 10 minutes. And he seemed to think it was okay to leave the air conditioning on and leave his child in the car — which obviously is not acceptable — and 10 minutes turned into an hour.”

Phila. Man Accused of Leaving Tot in Car to Go Gambling

The root of the problem is the misunderstood epidemic of slot machine addiction.

Unlike alcohol or tobacco, the modern slot machine is a product that cannot be used in the home. The consumer must go to the slot machine. In the case of the parent, day care provider or other caregiver, this aspect of gambling addiction can and does have tragic consequences that won’t be eliminated with video cameras.

Slot machines account for 70 – 80 % of all casino revenue.  For this reason you’d be hard pressed to find a casino without slots anywhere on the East Coast.  Table games simply don’t bring in the kind of money that the good-old one-arm bandit rakes in for casino owners and state coffers.  Except the machines don’t have the ‘one arm’ any more – and they’re anything but old.  They’ve been replaced with buttons and interactive screen displays, and even allow you to have a meal or drink delivered right to you at the machine so that you never have to leave.

But the ‘bandit part’ is still accurate. In the 1980′s, an inventor came up with a new type of slot machine – one that was run by a microchip – determining whether the player had won or lost, not by a spinning wheel, but by a random number generator that determined whether you were a winner or loser the millisecond you pressed the button.

At first, even Las Vegas casino owners opposed the slot new machines.  They’d worked hard to shed their Bugsy Siegel image, after all.  The president of Bally Gaming wrote to the Nevada Gaming Board that “It would appear to us that if a mechanical reel on a slot machine possesses four sevens and it is electronically playing as if there were one seven, the player is being visually misled.”

In other words, the new machines were the equivalent of loaded dice.  But once they learned how much money there was to be made from electronic loaded dice, casino owners stopped complaining.  And over the years, slot manufacturers adapted the machines to encourage players to play even faster, longer, and for larger wagers than ever.  Ergonomics, visuals, sounds, buttons instead of levers, credit cards and slot club cards instead of coins, bonus rounds, rapid-fire pay outs, deceptively programmed near-wins, machines engineered to allow the player to play more intensively – and to lose faster.

An MIT professor, Natasha Schull, has studied the way slot machines cause addictive behavior, and has a book coming out soon.  Dr. Hans Breiter, of Mass. General and Harvard Medical has studied the way this different type of addiction effects the brain, and says it compares more accurately, not to nicotine, alcohol or marijuana, but with crack cocaine.  Schull has demonstrated how slots can put certain players into a “machine zone” where nothing else matters.  According to Breiter, if you’re going to legalize slots, you may as well legalize other narcotics.

Perhaps their work brings us a step closer in understanding how slot machines lead to so many cases of child abandonment and neglect, and why signs and surveillance cameras are needed in casino parking lots.

Not that children of gambling addicts fare any better at home.  Studies have shown that at least 10 percent of children of gambling addicts suffer physical abuse at the hands of the pathological gambler in their lives.

Each year, squadrons of planes cover swaths of our state with pesticides to kill mosquitoes in the hopes for preventing even one case of EEE or West Nile.  The Legislature responds with palpable concern to our demands for consumer protections on toys, text messaging, and ATVs.   But when it comes to slot machine addiction and the devastating toll it takes on children and families – we inexplicably settle for video cameras, casino banishment, treatment and parking lot warning signs.

Both Schull and Breiter have testified at various State House hearings four times in the last three years about their findings, but the legislature continues to forge ahead with plans to build casinos and possibly slot parlors.

They concede that most people who try illegal narcotics do not develop into drug addicts, and the great majority of people who play slots can gamble without developing a problem – but it’s exactly those who do develop problems who account for 90% of the slot revenue. Meaning that pathological and problem gamblers are a casino’s target demographic.

Which might explain why the House barely passed amendment 327, which would prevent casinos from marketing to those who voluntarily place themselves on a self-exclusion list – the very people that sign in the picture was created for.  In fact, some of the 76 legislators who voted against it are slated to become members of the Conference Committee to hash out the details of a new gambling bill.

The Senate’s draft gambling bill would also give casinos an exception to the State’s gambling smoking ban.  Which means that before the industry even arrives in the Bay State it’s already been blessed with corporate bailout, designed to increase their earnings at the expense of the working class – casino employees.

Oddly enough, the gambling industry has never disputed anything Schull or Breiter have said.  I’ve often wondered if perhaps it has been merely waiting for the rest of the world to catch on, for the shoe to drop, for an astute legislature to catch on and the gravy train to come to an end.

Much like the chief of BP, who woefully insisted recently that his company cared about all the ‘small people’ – the same ones they’d incidentally also placed in harm’s way for profit, without any clear idea of how to prevent a potential mishap of this magnitude – our leadership will bear the responsibility, perhaps even liability, for the consequences proliferating an unusually addictive product.

Because, unlike their predecessors in other states, Massachusetts legislators
have had the benefit of hearing expert testimony regarding the dangers of the modern slot machine.

Four times.

The work of Schull and Breiter has finally begun to garner national attention, and earlier this year, a professor at the University of Wisconsin published her own book detailing her quest to understand her own slot machine addiction.

Certainly, the management of BP has their excuses for not listening to the warnings oil rig workers who warned them of impending dangers, just as members of the legislature justify their own reasons for ignoring experts and the regional leaders, community activists and members of the grassroots who sat through a 7 hour hearing for just 3 minutes to speak, while allowing paid lobbyists and casino developers to jump ahead in line and talk as long as they liked.  

But someday, in better times, low-wage job creation, chairmanships and special interests may perhaps sound as hollow as the excuses of BP execs do now, especially when signs like the one above start showing up within  our own borders.

Elsewhere, in parts of the world that did not have the benefit of Schull and Breiter’s sober advice before expanding gambling, they’ve been keeping count.  Twenty-three children in 2 years were found abandoned at British Columbia casinos – or almost one per month.  Sixty-eight in 4 years in Illinois.  Seventy-two in a 14-month period in Indiana.  Those were the ones that were found.

In the meantime, according to a press release for the 2009 Global Gaming Expo – slot machine manufacturers steadfastly continue to accelerate “Value for the Operator” while taking “Gaming to the Next Level”.

Happy Fathers Day, Massachusetts.

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20 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. And even when you win...

    They still make sure that you lose.

  2. There are laws...

    ...against child endangerment, right?  I'm not convinced this is a reason to not have casinos, but I'd be more than happy to throw the proverbial book at any parent or caregiver who does this.

    Also, regarding the "small people" comment from BP.  I don't think that was intended by a British person the way it sounds to American ears.  I've heard this used plenty by our friends across the pond and it generally means what we mean when we talk about sticking up for the "little guy", that is the people without money and influence.

    • The problem with throwing the book at people

      after they endanger children is that the damage to the child has already been done.  And sometimes this comes at a great cost to the child's health.

      And their parents and caregivers will be new addicts, created by the proximity of new, state-created and endorsed resort casinos, racinos containing thousands of slot machines.

      Worse, the damage will be done by people with a severe addictive disorder - a disorder that Beacon Hill has been warned about, but either dismisses or doesn't understand - for the purpose of increasing state revenue.  Not by people who would typically abandon and neglect their children.

      And yes, I understand the "small people" comment from the Swedish chief of BP was due to the language barrier.  But at the State House, where they speak English and have been warned on the dangers - just ike BP was - and where our representatives routinely create laws to protect the State's children, the irony of that statement is frighteningly real.

      • It still sounds pretty bad.

        "I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies or don't care, but that is not the case with BP. We care about the little people."

      • I do have to give you credit though.

        You came up with the one argument tied to addiction that I have heard that does not apply the same way to something like alcohol.

        Are there ways for DCF to intervene on behalf of a child of an addict parent before the parent actually harms the child?  If so then such procedures should apply here.

        • No, Christopher, no way to intervene before harm is done

          There is a law that applies, G.L.c.119 Sec.51AProtection of Children has the requirement that someone has to report abuse or neglect in order for the Department of Children and Families (DCF, used to be "DSS") to investigate.  If a family is sneaky enough to leave a 10 year old home taking care of an 8 year old and 6 year old, unless there is a fire or other catastrophe, who is to know?  Just one example among many.

          The countervailing issues are privacy and due process.  A parent has to do something really wrong AND be noticed before DCF is - or should be - involved.

          Now, maybe, casinos should have every gambler sign a form as to whether or not they have children, and if they do have children, what their child care arrangements ARE before being allowed to gamble?  Do you really think casinos would do that, and also, that an addict will tell the truth?

          • No, I don't trust casinos or addicts to take responsibility either.

            It does seem that being an addict should per se be grounds for taking a child into state custody.  The only other thing I can think of is require casinos to have someone at the entrance to the lot checking for children.  As for the 10 year old watching a 6 and 8 year old, I thought there were laws providing for age restrictions on being home without supervision too.  I'm hesitant to use lack of enforcibility as a reason not to have these laws.  There will always be people who find ways around them.  I also don't like basing policy on the irresponsibility of the few.  I've several times proposed regulations to alleviate addictive behavior, many of which fall into the category of casinos should be required to cut you off the same way bartenders do.

            • Another problem is that

              most people have no idea how addictive slots are.  They figure it's the table games that create the gambling addicts they've all heard about.

              Beacon Hill won't even force the industry to post the actual odds on the machine.

              The first time a person takes heroin or meth, they're pretty well aware of where that path can lead.  But who thinks that way about slots?  The industry (and now the state) acts like slots are part of some harmless adult Disney World.  A grown up video arcade.

              People who become addicted to slots usually can't even believe they're addicted to slots. That word doesn't seem to apply to those people who would never take herion or meth in a million years. They don't feel like addicts.  They feel out of control - sometimes they don't realize how out of control they are until the damage has been done.  I'm not an expert, but I've often wondered if this is the reason gambling addiction has such a high suicide rate - people who consider themselves responsible and hard working members of society find themselves suddenly or gradually gripped by this inexplicable mania that is supposed to be just another form of entertainment.  I mean, you never seen glitzy commercials with their own jingles for meth and heroin.  I think it probably causes a lot of guilt.

              But for people who already have addictive disorders, slot machines make it worse.  A social worker told my sister that Fall River is the meth capital of Massachusetts.  So naturally it's the best place for a casino.  (Insert sarcasm.)

              It's been very interesting listening to the experts from MIT and Harvard, as well as recovering addicts describe how slot machine addiction takes hold.  I would urge the Legislature to actually listen to them, too.

  3. Beacon Hill's simple-minded solution is

    to mandate in the legislation that the parking lots will be patrolled every 2 hours.

    They clearly don't get it - or don't want to.

    Friends who have gone to these places for reasons other than gambling have complained about children running through the corridors at all hours during the night.

    The case of Sherrice Iverson is the saddest, yet the casino did nothing to prevent it or protect her. Casino security tapes were used to identify the men. http://middlebororemembers.blo...

    Of the Senate's latest flawed version?

    from The Great American Jobs Scam - Blindfolded public officials practice job creation guided by wolves posing as Seeing Eye Dogs.

    • No children on the premises - period!

      Check at the enterance to the parking area and bar entry to anyone underage - no questions asked.

      • Christopher, dear, now you Are missing the point

        Those children who are found are the 'lucky' ones.

        Children have been left in malls, locked in trunks and who knows what else.

        Casinos make 90% of their profits from 10% of their patrons, a fact never disputed by the Industry.

        That's ADDICTION.

        Without that addiction, there is no business.

        A fact NEVER address by the legislators during hearings I attended.  

        The majority of those charged with crimes regarding casino gambling were law-abiding citizens who were never told about the risk of slot machines that are programmed to cause addiction. That's why they're called THE CRACK COCAINE OF GAMBLING.  

        Why would we support and promote a business whose business model is based on ADDICTION?

        • I'm not waiting for the children to be found.

          I'm calling for the vehicles to be inspected upon arrival so there are no children present in the first place.  If they are left somewhere off premises then we're back to arguments that can be used about alcohol.  In other words, it's just as possible that a child is left in an unsafe situation while a parent goes to a bar and drinks too much, but of course we don't ban bars or their products.

      • I highly, highly doubt

        we'd ever, in a million years, get a casino bill through that barred children from entering 'the premises,' ie the building. Think about all that they throw in that building known as the "resort casino" for kids. Gotta get 'em young, as they say, building that brand up so those kids will be into it when they're older. Arcades, rides, sports, shows, dinners and IMAX are all things you're likely to find in a large-scale casino.  

        • Do these places...

          ...provide safe (supervised) places for kids to hang out while parents enter the casino section?  If we can't do this right then I would say keep them away under a certain age.  I think of resort casinos as an adult playground, even for the things that outside of this context would be fine for kids.

          • not sure

            some may, some may not. I guess it depends on the profit motive (and the parents being willing to put up extra bucks in child care instead of slot cash... which, for the addicts doesn't seem likely).

            The thing is, though, that while it would be a good idea to keep kids totally out of these buildings, you're not going to see that as being a part of the bill. These things always go in favor of what the casinos want. Ditto things like smoking bans -- bet your bottom dollar that our state's smoking ban won't apply to casinos, the same smoking ban that has saved hundreds and hundreds of lives every year in Massachusetts. We have to go into this knowing that if we let the industry inside Massachusetts, it's going to be able to bend the rules in its favor every time and get pretty much whatever it wants in the long run. To do anything else is being recklessly irresponsible given the way this industry has worked in every other state we've seen across the country.  

            • What I still don't understand though...

              ...(and I read your related comment on the other thread before writing this one) is if we can stand up to a powerful tobacco lobby by banning smoking in many cases, moving toward tighter regulation on the narcotic side of that, sending Joe Camel packing, and taxing cigarettes, what's keeping us from standing up to the casino lobby.  Yes, it takes political will, but the tobacco lobby is not exactly a pushover either.

              • Because there is no political will.

                It's ugly.

                Smoking was already here when we all learned officially of it's dangers.  After that is was about trying to regulate it.  It took years and fortitude, legal work and numerous deaths to bring about a case against the Tobacco companies that finally won a big enough award to make them change their ways (in this country), which, after decades of fighting, brought us the state wide smoking ban, which, after several years of casino lobbying, is getting pushed aside for the benefit of increasing the casinos bottom line.

                Instead of going down this path, let's all just take a breath and watch where this is going NOW and in the next few months.  People will hear more about it.  

              • Cigarettes were a different beast

                Killing millions of people, causing cancer in many millions more, with the industry lying for generations, even trying to make cigarettes appear "healthy." Then there was the fact that they were heavily marketed toward children, in a way that goes way beyond what I've described with the casinos. With all the court cases that slammed against them, there was blood in the water and little for them to do.

                Casinos don't kill millions of people -- even if, indirectly, they may be somewhat responsible for hundreds or thousands in a year (drunk drivers from free booze, suicides, violent crimes related to gambling problems, etc.) -- they just destroy lives. So people are less likely to become riled up about it. Yet, destroying lives, IMO, is little better than ending them... so we ought to think long and hard before we allow industries in here that have proven to be highly adept at skirting regulations or watering them down, while making things as good for the industry and as bad for the populace as possible.

                Furthermore, the taboo of mental health diseases (addictions being one of them) is alive and kicking -- people don't want to talk about their brother who has a gambling problem and forced their family into bankruptcy, or up and left their wife and children. They want to keep it a secret so no one finds out they're in one of 'those' families -- never mind that it could happen to anyone. While there used to be a taboo for physical illnesses such as diseases often caused by cigarettes, and still may be to a certain extent, it's decades ahead in terms of acceptance and a willingness to talk about the issues than mental health diseases.

                Our first instincts as people is to look away from these mental health diseases and addictions: pretend they don't exist, or that they're strictly the fault of whoever it is -- that they were too "weak" to begin with. Of course, it used to be that people who had heart disease were "too weak" to begin with, or people who had AIDS got the "gay cancer" and deserved what they got, but now these views are no longer socially acceptable and these diseases are being brought out into the forefront, being well-funded and studied and will, someday hopefully soon, be cured. We don't 'look away' or make judgments based on physical illnesses anywhere near what we used to do, and I think that helps us tackle the underlying causes of those physical diseases, both by making more people are educated and willing to do something about it, as well as by bringing people who have personal experiences with those diseases into the forefront to talk about it and increase the level of awareness. That leads to pressure to reform whatever it is that's the underlying causes of these diseases, pressure for political reform and funding, as well as fundraising and other efforts to cure them outright and help with treatment for those who couldn't otherwise afford it. I've donated to plenty of 'walks' to cure cancer and other diseases -- I've never even heard of a walk to cure or treat addictions of any kind. Hell, our state just cut the funding in half last year for its one problem gambling service to help those who want help, and before it was cut in half the entire agency received less funds than Charley Baker's Harvard-Pilgram annual salary in his last year.

                So, yes, with a great deal of political will, we were able to place some heavy restriction on cigarettes -- but that only came after decades of legal battles and studies that forced a cultural recognition of just how bad cigarettes were -- and just how dishonest (and murderous) the companies were that made the cigarettes  -- before there was that political will to do something about it. That hasn't happened with slots and likely can't until they're as widely available as cigarettes, until their negative impacts on people and regions are as well understood as we now understand cigarettes, and we've begun to accept mental diseases for what they are -- real illnesses that destroy not only the lives of the individuals effected by them, but can destroy the lives of those surrounding them, from family to friends to coworkers to neighbors.

  4. We have a mulit trillion dollar

    commercial electronic media system which creates such xombielike behavior.  What did you expect anti-stipidity legislation?

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Wed 22 Feb 8:12 AM