We mailed a penny today to more than 200 prominent Massachusetts journalists, public officials, business leaders and philanthropists, calling on them to use a penny slot machine at a casino outside the state. We titled it “A Penny Is All It Takes,” a sharp contrast to the millions of dollars spent by casinos on TV ads and mailings that don’t even mention the word casino or even show a photo of a slot machine.
In eight years of conflict over casinos in Massachusetts, only one news story has focused on the design and technology of electronic slot machines, the actual ‘commodity’ that is the sun and the moon of the casino business.
There is no debate whether slots cheat ordinary citizens. These gambling machines are built mathematically so users are certain to lose their money the longer they play. At the same time, the machines are literally designed so citizens cannot stop using them, exploiting aspects of human psychology and inducing irrational and irresponsible behavior. Every feature of a slot machine – its mathematical structure, visual graphics, sound dynamics, seating and screen ergonomics – is designed to increase a player’s “time on device” – which means how long a person plays. Penny slot machines predominate on the casino floors because low-to-middle income citizens are the target market for regional casinos.
Our message today was direct: a penny is all it takes to decide if casinos and slot machines are in the best interest of you, your family and everyone in the state. We asked when they returned to Massachusetts, to widely share what they learned about the machines.
We posed three specific questions for them to answer and to share that judgment with other people:
1) Are slot machines rigged? Do they cheat ordinary citizens?
2) Are slot machines financially and socially harmful if used by citizens in the way their designers intend?
3) Will slots create more unfairness and inequality in the state or less?
A key underlying reason why there has been no examination of slot machines is because most people, especially opinion leaders, rarely use a slot machine if at all. It’s especially true for the slot machine makers, casino operators, and the state officials they partner with, one of the most telling and revealing indictments of this public policy. (You can read the list of promoters who don’t gamble in our letter on Pg.3) They don’t lose any of their own money but they want you to lose a lot of yours.
The penny attached to the letter was given in memory of Scott Stevens, a successful business executive from Steubenville, Ohio who used a slot machine the way its maker and promoter intended: he could not stop using it. In August 2012, the married father of three daughters took his own life with his hunting rifle, sitting on a park bench in a children’s community soccer park he raised money to build. In the days afterward, a letter arrived in the mail addressed to his wife Stacy. Stevens mailed it before taking his own life. It read, in part:
“I know you don’t believe it but I love you so much! I have hurt you so much. Our family only has a chance if I’m not around to bring us down any further. You’re such an unbelievable wife and mother. I know you will hold the family together…”
While millions of men and women like Scott Stevens and their families have sacrificed and hurt so much to provide needed revenues to American government, no one has ever thanked them for their ‘service.’
Scott Stevens’s life is worth at least a penny.
We strongly encourage you to mail your own letter along with a penny to people you want to engage on this issue in your community or around the state. You can copy and paste our letter or write your own. Thanks.
UPDATED: I updated this post with a graphic from MIT Professor Natasha Schull’s recent book investigating slot machine design and technology Addiction By Design . It shows the absolute, guaranteed mathematical certainty that citizens will lose their money the longer they use slot machines. Yet the machine is designed so citizens can’t stop using it. From Pg 112:
Proponents have touted the one-sided ledger sheet meme that local-low roller casinos are job creators when in fact casinos suck money out of regional economies leading to regional economic decline, small business loss and employment losses.
I have harped on the casino issue for about 7 1/2 years after learning that the Governor and Lt. Governor that I worked my butt off to elect wanted to bring casinos to our communities.
The debate for me has been about the economic reality of casinos and the decline of the industry. It has also encompassed my passionate feelings about: closed-door democracy – an oxymoron if ever there was one; the hypocrisy of Open Meeting Laws that do not apply to state elected officials; insider deals; the power of money to buy votes; the decline of substantive fact-based reporting by MSM; the dysfunctional concentration of power in the triumvirate of the Governor, Speaker and Senate President. There are many other troubling aspects of the predatory gambling fiasco in the Commonwealth that ignite my abhorrence of government partnering with corporations and exploiting vulnerable communities and individuals for profit, as well as the intellectual laziness of elected officials to back gimmick-based legislation vs. real, sustainable and progressive solutions.
The above post by Les Bernal reveals the inner workings of the devices and industry that was invited to MA by Governor Patrick (the next US Attorney General??????) whose work with Coca Cola was questioned during his campaign for Governor by some but perhaps not taken seriously enough by many. His exaggeration of job and economic development of casinos with bogus numbers of 30,000 jobs and 20,000 construction jobs that were sounded refuted in the Spectrum Gaming report that he paid for with taxpayer dollars may have been an indicator of his willingness to achieve certain ends through certain means regardless if the partnering was with self-serving predators. The part that bothers me the most about this is that he never apologized for his unabashed marketing of false numbers and information to the people of Massachusetts. Not cool. For a man who purports to have integrity and character that is one of the very not cool, unpalatable truths of the past 7 1/2 years.
…but I still feel this idea that somehow there’s this outside force that trumps free will and makes you continue to be insulting to the intelligence of most people. I’m not talking about addicts in this case which would be addicts regardless of machine design, and yes I read the links.
The “outside force that trumps free will and makes you continue” is called “advertising” — especially electronic and mass-media advertising. If you think it doesn’t exist, then how do you explain the billions of dollars expended on it by otherwise-rational corporations?
Why would any otherwise rational consumer buy Advil at a premium rather than CVS store-brand ibuprofen? Do you seriously believe that Birkenstocks are higher quality than all of their competitors?
One of my consulting engagements was with a well-known Chicago-based market research company. They gather and resell real-time barcode scanner data from grocery stores nationwide — virtually EVERY purchase anybody makes at any grocery store appears instantly in their database (they own the patents on the hardware, and decades ago gave the hardware away in exchange for exclusive access to the data).
A typical brand manager for a consumer company buys their product in order to measure the effectiveness of various advertising campaigns. That brand manager will, for example, arrange to broadcast a newly-created 30-sec “Folger in the morning” spot in a restricted geography at a specific time. She will arrange for the existing spot to be broadcast at the same time in a different (but nearby) neighborhood.
The real-time data from my former client allows that brand manager to directly measure, in grocery store sales, whether the new spot is more or less effective than the old spot. My client learned, decades ago, that consumers immediately and significantly respond to television advertising (much more so than radio, by the way), and that advertisers require and will spend enormous sums to acquire hard real-time data that allows them to tune and optimize their broadcast behavior manipulators (otherwise known as “advertisements”).
I’ll leave to another time further discussion of B.F. Skinner’s question from the 1970s of what “free will” means in a culture where a small number of people own and control a technology to manipulate the whims and desires of the population at large.
Nevertheless, there is nothing magical, mysterious, or mythical about the “outside force”. It seems to me that your obstinate refusal to admit its very existence — to the extent that you find discussions of it “insulting” — is blinding you to the reality of a hugely important player in modern culture.
I want to clarify that what I’m describing here is the very carefully engineered use of technology that manipulates what people want. That “technology” is soft, in the sense that it uses images, words, sounds, and symbols, but it is technology in the sense that it follows well-understood and readily-manipulated rules with very predictable outcomes.
The behavior modification technology used in television advertising since at least the 1970s is a close cousin to, and some say identical with, the techniques used by the gambling industry to move cash from the wallets and bank accounts of its
victimscustomers to its retail outlets. Like any other technology, this technology has well-documented literature, a well-established paper and even legal trail of various patents, processes, and procedures, a vocabulary of specific technical terms, and so on.
The gambling industry funded an ENORMOUS amount of this research for its own use, and the advertising industry uses that research (and, I am told, therefore pays licensing fees). The converse is also true.
So the “outside force” is VERY real.
It seemed like it was physically irresistable independently of your own brain.
Anybody who wishes to make a profit does it. Do you go out and purchase every product you see an ad for because you just can’t control yourself? I don’t.
Of course you don’t purchase “every” product.
The point is, though, that a predictable number of people purchase more than they would without advertising, and with zero difference in the product. So the advertising is most definitely changing people’s behavior.
“Advertising”, as in buying a half-page in a newspaper, is VERY different from buying a 30-sec spot on a television broadcast. The latter is VERY effective, and is therefore very expensive.
So, to go back to your original comment (“outside force that trumps free will and makes you continue”), this outside force is not imaginary, not mythical, and very effective. I’m not sure it “trumps” free will, but it most certainly manipulates it.
I argue that your assertion that talking about this “insults the intelligence of most people” is balderdash.
…but I don’t get why we see it as nefarious in this case. There seems to be a how dare they advertise attitude. I’d prefer there be less advertising overall, but that’s a different issue. Maybe I should speak for myself, but I do find it insulting that it’s thought that I can’t make my own decisions, advertising notwithstanding. I have more faith in people than that.
I don’t know about “nefarious”.
We seem to agree that it’s effective. We know that the advertising and “game” design is intentionally directed at subjects who are vulnerable to it. We know that the result is to cause too many of them to lose money that they can’t afford to lose, and that they would not blow in the absence of this technology.
We already ban television advertising for alcohol and tobacco for this reason. I really don’t understand your feeling of insult, especially since none of this harms you.
I don’t see protecting vulnerable people from predators as somehow breaking “faith” with them — in my view, it is failing to protect them from these predators that violates our faith in and respect for our most vulnerable.
I think your model of human behavior is just perfect for the eighteenth century, but we actually know more about how humans behave now. The free will thing is excellent for motivating good behavior, but that only makes it a useful myth. It just doesn’t stand up to, say, what psychologists and behavioral economists keep discovering about us. Using it to guide policy is like using the Ptolemaic system to guide space exploration: It won’t get you where you want to go.
I get that there are things like addiction and brainwashing, but I think most people can and should be able to control themselves on balance. It works all the time.
If common sense were always true, we’d never need science.
I submit you are just making stuff up. Unconsciously perhaps, but really this is a model of human behavior that predates the discovery of dopamine. If it were true, obesity levels would be very low indeed.
I am several pounds overweight, maybe even obese by what seems to be an ever-broadening definition of the term. That’s at least in part due to metabolism levels, and if I do eat too much I’m not going to blame that on an outside force.
Did you choose to be several pounds overweight?
And if you apply all this non-eighteenth century science to let yourself off the hook, why aren’t you applying non-eighteenth century science to gambling?
Let me guess. Your overeat, but you don’t gamble.
(Disclaimer: most Americans overeat.)
…but I DID several years ago and it paid off. In graduate school I did more walking and ate healthier resulting in my weighing the least I have as an adult. My point is I am not letting myself off the hook. I know I can and should do better and nothing or nobody is stopping me.
many years ago was to cover the outcome of the trial of a man who had embezzled a large amount of money from his company. Turned out he was an addicted casino gambler. He would go to Atlantic City and lose money on the slot machines, until the day came when he lost so much money, he had to sell his own car on the spot there. Then he began embezzling from his company. The jury in the trial acquitted him by reason of insanity.
I can fully understand how someone could reach the point in the downward spiral created by gambling addiction at which they would take their own life. There are better ways for the state to obtain revenue and better sources of job creation than casinos.
I congratulate you on the creativeness of the “it only takes a penny” campaign. The well-cited reports around how pro-gambling politicians do not themselves gamble (including the Gaming Commission members) is striking and revealing.
Yet, I can’t help commenting on these two statements from the diary and your letter:
This is almost true. The machines are definitely designed so that the users (as a whole) are certain to lose money. Slot machines do, over time, take 5%-10% of all money put in to them. That said, it’s not true that users are “certain to lose their money the longer they play.” That’s not even really a logical statement. I think your letter would have more credibility if it instead said something like “These gambling machines are built mathematically so that the average user will lose, play longer, and lose more money the longer they play.”
This is another very controversial thing to say and also strangely now talks about “citizens.” It’s not true and opens you up to fair attacks from those of us who believe in free will. Instead, you could make virtually the same point by saying something like “the machines are literally designed so that more users are more likely to become addicted, exploiting aspects…”
I added a graphic to my post above that affirms “how machines are built mathematically so users are certain to lose their money the longer they play. ”
Regarding your last point, “citizens” are exactly who these people are. Slot machines (just like $30 lottery scratch tickets) are part of a government program. By cheating and exploiting citizens using slots and $30 scratch tickets, we’ve allowed our government to render these citizens as expendable. They’re considered less equal than the rest of us.
I share your belief in “freedom.” But if this public policy was really about “freedom” then you and I could operate our own casino instead of giving regional monopolies to billion dollar gambling operators in partnership with our own government. “Freedom” is making gambling private and local in the form of small, unlicensed games and taking powerful corporate gambling interests out of our government. “Freedom” isn’t associated with a public policy that transfers massive wealth from the have-nots to the haves, causing financial harm and pain to their families.
Respectfully, I ask you to go out and use a slot machine in the very near future, all of which are sponsored and promoted by state governments. And then consider whether the design and technology of the machine you are using is actually providing more freedom, fairness and equality in our society or less.
What would we think if a person seeking to be nominated to the state’s Gaming Commission listed as a qualification his or her enthusiasm for gambling:
I’d guess we’d reject somebody like that out of hand as foolish and probably unreliable. And I can think of only one other form of commerce in which direct experience would be such a detriment: prostitution.
What are we doing?
Medical marijanua dispensary?
it’s unusual that the purveyors and regulators of gambling by and large never indulge in the commerce that is providing their livelihood, and it’s also unusual that we rarely contemplate that fact.
We’d probably expect a distiller to have an occasional drink, and it would not surprise us for a medical marijuana patient to help inform the state’s policy on that subject. Gambling seems different.
If you didn’t lose on average, casinos wouldn’t be a business; they’d be a charity where the troubled could go to feel the happy rush of winning money — and contestants would only be allowed to stay a set length of time.
The purveyors, no doubt, have thoughtfully constructed the illusion whereby the consumers (the consumed?) think they’ll win but won’t. If you’ve spent a bit of effort and money constructing such an illusion, you’re unlikely to want to fall prey to it yourself.
The seller KNOWS that the product is eventually going to destroy the customer. The seller also knows that the customer will go to great lengths to pay enormous sums to the seller while the customer is crashing and burning.
It is thus very profitable for the seller, and a seller would NEVER EVER consume their own product. It also explains why an excellent business strategy for the seller is to make the product available as a free or very low cost “new customer” deal, so as to “introduce” the seller to the product.
Prostitution created an entire music industry in New Orleans — Jazz was born in the brothels of New Orleans. The word was originally street-slang for the sex act, and the music was played to entertain customers while they waited for their chosen sex worker to be available. Should we cite the many jobs created in the music industry as a reason to legalize prostitution?
This all explains why the illegality of heroin has nothing to do with “morality”, why the “jobs” argument is so cynical, and why legalized gambling is terrible social policy — never mind its regressivity as a source of tax revenue.
Why purveyors of gambling find so little attraction to the activity themselves
If you are opposed to predatory gambling, you must be calling for the end of the state Lottery, right? Surely it is a greater threat to the “ordinary citizens” you want to protect than casinos would be. There proximity in every convenience store, supermarket and lunch counter is a predatory temptation to people, especially low income people who are lured in by the advertising that promises you could get rich quick. Of course, the games are “rigged” not to make everyone rich, they are specifically designed to fill the state coffers with more income. Low income earners scratch endless tickets and play keno in their own neighborhoods. Casinos are utilized by middle class people who have disposable income for entertainment. A night at the casino may be just an occasional night-out choice that really doesn’t cost a couple any more than 2 good tickets to a Sox game or a night at good concert. It’s an adult choice.
1) Its a corrupt industry
2) Its a declining industry shedding jobs and requiring bailouts
3) It will not meet revenue or job projections or revitalize communities
4) Casinos target the poor and elderly
5) Gambling causes bankruptcies and raises crime, the lottery does not
6) Gambling is addictive by design
7) 75% of casino revenue comes from addicted gamblers
There are a good number of folks here that also oppose the lottery, but that is a policy that is not currently on the ballot, and unlike casinos, the lottery in my view can be significantly reformed so that addiction and revenue distribution concerns can be mitigated against. And if those reforms fail, I would be open to full repeal. But you are essentially using it as a strawman in this argument. Much like in the infamous sweetheart thread when teabaggers mentioned Obama said similar remarks, I would argue a Democratic wrong doesn’t make a Republican wrong right. Similarly, the lottery not being on the ballot does not suddenly eliminate or contradict the concerns about casino gambling which is on the ballot. If one does not like the lottery than one would vote against casinos.
Your list is old myths and stereotypes about Las Vegas in the 1950’s. It reads like a list form the anti- casino website. Please cite your proof for your statements.
Many of the arguments you use against the proposed, regulated casinos are the same arguments people used against creating the state lottery. They said then that it would lead to corruption, epidemic gambling addiction, crime, bankruptcy and it would fail to generate the increased state revenue. Hyperbolic warnings did not come pass.
might be a start, hlpeary.
The lottery is not on this ballot.
I am also opposed to the lottery, for the same reason.
The statistics do not support your assertion that “Casinos are utilized by middle class people who have disposable income for entertainment.” While that statement is literally true (some middle class people who have disposable income choose to visit casinos for entertainment), BMG is filled with hard data and evidence to show that that is NOT the demographic that sustains the industry.
On this ballot, I will vote to repeal casino gambling. I certainly hope that after this battle is won, we will then move to also eliminate the lottery.
We are calling to phase out the lottery for all the reasons you listed and more.
Your statement that:
is not based in fact and you won’t find any analysis not funded by gambling interests to buttress it.
It’s never been illegal to go a Red Sox game or a concert. It has been illegal to cheat and exploit citizens. That’s why casinos have been blocked from operating in Massachusetts until some state officials recently sought to use them to collect money for the general fund.
Let people who want the adult choice to gamble do so all they want in private and local games of chance. But reduce inequality by ending the practice of government sponsoring and promoting predatory forms of gambling like slot machines and $30 scratch tickets.
Trickle up says
A funny question because casinos and slots probably will cannibalize lottery revenues.
At least lottery revenues stay in Massachusetts!
…those seeking to abolish the lottery had better be prepared to offer what they intend to cut or how to make up the shortfall, preferably in ways that are politically viable.
If our party is to provide sustainable governance, then our party MUST put forward a narrative that makes collecting tax revenue to balance government expenditures (on a state and local level) politically viable.
At the heart of that new narrative MUST be a shared premise that our wealthiest citizens must pay a higher share of their wealth and income than our poorest citizens. There MUST be a shared agreement that a consumer economy requires consumers who have disposable income. There MUST be a realistic recognition that an economic system that concentrates the wealth and income of an entire state into the wallets and bank accounts of less than 1% of the residents of that state is not sustainable.
Our party lost elections and influence because we allowed the other party to be cast as more responsible about handling the economy. The data shows, compellingly, that that perception is grossly wrong.
A government that cannot print money MUST, over the long run, collect as much in tax revenue as it spends. NEITHER nominee has admitted that reality in the current campaign.
Reno desperately wants the economy Massachusetts already has, why would go backward to where they no longer want to be?