On Contact: Casino Capitalism with Natasha Dow Schüll



welcome to on contact today we discuss the ramifications of the casino culture in America with the author of addiction by design Natasha dowel trying to sweep people away from themselves away from rationality away from a position where they have clear lines of sight and can act as decision-making subjects you see that on the floors of casinos you see it in the mathematical algorithms and I think you see it in political rhetoric today with Chris Hedges the biggest political donors in the last election cycle were billionaires who have made their fortunes from the casino industry or speculation on Wall Street the largest donor was Tom Steyer a hedge fund manager the second sheldon adelson a casino magnate this is the new American capitalism in its most insidious form it is not about producing products but intangible experiences it is about trying to make money with money it is about escapist fantasies in casinos it is a world of glitter and noise where the more money you are willing to spend the more you are worth the more your pamper given free hotel rooms and gifts handed passes into special clubs for high-volume players with buffets scantily clad female hostesses hover around you to serve you complimentary drinks you are invited if you spend enough to exclusive parties with supermodels and Hall of Fame athletes the large colored chips turn cash into a species of Monopoly money it is Disneyland for adults and it is the world that defines president Donald Trump our t correspondent Anya Perrin pal looks at how gambling has become our premier form of entertainment and how it drives our economy with March Madness in full swing have you contributed to the estimated 70 million brackets filled out that's how many NCAA tournament brackets the American Gaming Association guesses were completed this year with participants throwing on average $29 apiece into office pools that comes out ten point four billion dollars spent betting on college basketball this year alone now only four percent of that money is officially recorded on the books making vast majority of this betting technically illegal but the popularity of March Madness speaks to the role gambling plays as America's favorite pastime 2015 was a record-breaking year for casinos as they raked in 38 point 54 billion dollars through gaming the state's which thought the fastest growth in casino gaming were Maryland Ohio and Louisiana but it might surprise you to know that while Americans spent 38 billion dollars at casinos in 2015 they only spent a fraction of that on other forms of entertainment 13 billion on football 8.4 billion on baseball six point seven billion dollars on music and 5.7 billion dollars on basketball with hockey only getting about three point seven billion dollars suggesting Americans get more kicks from betting on sports than even attending games 460 commercial casinos operated nationwide in 2015 there are an additional 486 tribal casinos 350 card rooms 55 racetrack casinos and a whopping 15,000 423 gaming devices scattered across the United States meaning there are thousands of locations nationwide for Americans to test their luck and distract their minds Thank You Anya Natasha Dow Xu is associate professor of media culture and communications at New York University she is also the author of addiction by design machine gambling in Las Vegas a book that draws on extended research among compulsive gamblers and the designers of the slot machines they play to explore the relationship between technology design and the experience of addiction so let's begin I thought the book was fascinating and taught me a lot and this this is by design they are creating compulsive or addicted gamblers and perhaps you can begin by speaking about the technology that does this and then explaining what it does what you call the zone in the balloon well the technology if we take that word loosely begins really with you could say architectural technology before you even get into these properties they're already thinking about how to get you to the machines the slot machines which are the the golden which is why you're right there there is no real Lobby as you go through the door and right and the lobby that's there is really shunting you into these other profit spaces and so you can look into the design tones of casinos and find all of these interesting for example carpets are not supposed to ever have right angles because this will mean that the casino patrons stop and have to reflect and make a conscious rational decision to turn into a gaming area instead you want to curve their bodies around and the places that they sit are often covered and enclosed very sort of welcoming little cocoons in which they can disappear in front of these slot machines no windows no windows mirrors low ceilings dim lighting distraction settings yeah constant noise mm-hmm it's a it's a sort of logic of convolution and confusion and these are actually the words used and what's called space elimination it's not like modernist architecture where you have clear lines of sight and you're trying to give people perspective you're trying to take their perspective away and move them where you want them to go and this logic that plays out in the carpets and you know how far the ceilings come down is also playing out in the design of the cabinets the screens and the design of the math well you get lost and I was just in the Taj Trump Taj Mahal before it closed and what is a three football field-sized oh but you very quickly are disoriented you don't know where you are yeah and disorientation is a design strategy very purposely why does that work because they want to keep the the patrons in this sort of zone where and I'm quoting now from a design manual on casinos where they remain open and permeable to emotional triggers and where you can kind of get them and that's why there's no clocks right you can't tell time clocks are like a right angle it brings you into time and space and locates you they don't really want you to feel located they want you to feel disoriented swept along us it's very effective now let's talk about the machines because which is the really heart of your book and none of this I knew but the machines themselves function like you know updated Skinner boxes explain what you know all the ways these machines are designed to not only trigger moods and reactions but finally a compulsive need to gamble yeah I mean some people might think that your use of Skinner box is heavy-handed but actually in the 1950s Skinner himself used the metaphor of the slot machine to describe the blue house Skinner boxes explain because some people may not know explain you know how they do work and and how that is replicated in a slot right so Skinner boxes and the famous examples being pigeons and rats who were put in these cages with buttons that turn different colors and levers so it actually had you know the features of a slot machine and you would get rewards little pellets coming out of sleep but not every time that's right what you point on the book well it depended on what kind of reinforcement schedule or reward schedule you call it intermittent well that's the most addictive one that's what he discovered was that the most compelling kind of delivery structure for rewards was when you never know how much you're getting and you never know when and that's always been the case for the slot machine and what these high-tech digital slot machines of the contemporary world do is they take that basic formula and they intensify it and elaborate on it and really hone it down to I don't know if I want to say a science or an art and one way for example is the the mathematical algorithms it used to be back in the day you'd put in some money and you'd either lose it all or you double or triple it was very exciting was very volatile and it usually didn't last too long if you won big you'd leave if you lost you'd leave and these these slots didn't even have stools in front of them they were seen as quick diversion to sort of fleece people before they got to the main gambling areas totally different today now most of it most of the income comes out of slobs yeah the odds are far greater in favor of the house than they are in terms of the traditional well overtime because the idea with slots is oh or this is the new idea you put seats in front of them you let people spend a huge amount of time and you go into the book about how these seats are you know very highly they're arrogant nami yeah yeah right right so they don't cut off your circulation you can sit there for hours and they tilt at just the right angle yeah they're especially attentive to elderly people in the seats and not wanting to cut off their circulation it's about time on device time on device is used so often as a kind of the key to profit the holy grail that they usually shorthand it is Tod you know and so it's the seats it's the way they pixelate the screens it's actually the acoustics the way they will put all 400 sounds on a slot machine all in the key of C in one case because this is thought to be less fatigue well then isn't it that they go for red or there there are certain colors they use I may have read that somewhere else I think you read that somewhere else and some of this is just kind of folklore and mystery I asked them why this color and not another color and they said we don't know why we just tried it till it worked best so the whole casino is a laboratory and they can they don't have to have a science or hypothesis ahead of time they put machines out and it very quickly rises to the surface what works best so in that sense it's not this sinister science where they say how can we best a dick people they want to make the most money they put out the machines and the ones that make the most money they keep before we get into the zone they can track because they use these player cards they as you write in the book have entire profiles of they know when they like to gamble how you know they so they can actually adjust or cater yeah that's a whole other register on which this manipulation is playing out because they have in real time what scientists would call keypress data and they know you know how you respond to certain game events when you might leave etc and when you might leave that explained because that was fascinating what they can tell when you're about to leave and what do they do how do they tell them what they're still not allowed although people are coming up with these very crafty patents to get around this regulation but they're still not allowed to change the odds in the middle of a session there is no big dial on the back but they can dispatch a live luck ambassador over to the machine to try to cause you to play with how but how do they know that what do you call it the pain threshold or the pain thing they've got an algorithm to sense your pain points you're sweet that's amazing yeah and they get it and and and so you'll go off and get a free meal right the pain threshold is overcoming and back you go doesn't always work because people want to be just left alone and that's where we get to the zone right and that's what we're gonna talk about after the break which is also fascinating when we return we'll hear more from Professor Natasha Dowell author of addiction by design machine gambling in Las Vegas contact with Chris Hedges welcome back to on contact let's get back to our conversation with Professor Natasha Dao jewel of addiction by design machine gambling in Las Vegas so let's talk about the zone the zone is a term that I kept hearing over and over again as I went to Gamblers Anonymous meetings and spoke to gambling addicts and this really describes a state you could call it a state of flow in which a sense of time-space other people and monetary value falls away and you might say you know a state of flow in the zone this sounds very different from the thrill and suspense of gambling which is such a volatile activity but actually what the casino is hit upon is that you actually make more money when you design a flow state into these machines where people don't even know that they're losing and they sit there again it's the time on device so if you look at a lot of contemporary slot machines they're not really operating on a logic of volatility at all one designer of the mathematics and the algorithms of these games told me we want to design a mathematical algorithm that makes you feel like you're reclining on a comfortable couch so again just like the curves in the architecture and the softly pixelated lights they want you to sort of sit back and go with the flow you write in the book that in fact winning disrupts that yeah I just couldn't make sense of that for the longest time in my research gamblers would say you know it's so weird but sometimes when I win a big jackpot I feel angry and frustrated this is because in the course of play what what they're playing for what they've come to play for is not winning but staying in the zone and winning interrupts that because suddenly the machine is making the it's frozen right it's not letting you keep going and it's playing music etc and what are you going to do with that winning anyway you're going to just feed it back in the machine so you can extend your time on device what does this say about the society because this is this would be an experience that is different from people who were going to Las Vegas in the 1950s right so this is more about mood modulation effect modulation you could say using technology to dampen anxieties and really exit the world and we don't just see it in Las Vegas you could say that we see it on the subway every morning and the rise of all of these screen based technologies and little games that we become so absorbed in and what gamblers articulate is a desire to really lose a sense of self so they lose time space money value and a sense of being in the world and you might then ask so what is that about you know what does that say how do we diagnose that what they I see it really as the flipside into the pressure the incredible pressure which is experienced as a burden to self-manage to make choices to always be maximizing living life in this entrepreneurial mode you know we talk about this as the sort of subjective side of the neoliberal agenda right where pressure is put on individuals to regulate themselves so in this case they are regulating themselves but they're regulating themselves away from that it really is a mode of escape this is not action gambling this is escape gambling and you can see it on their faces and write consequences of this I mean the consequences are ruinous right the consequences and then the the ethics are also distasteful because in that sense you can see it as a predatory it's it's a form of predation on a kind of escape that people are driven you know to really exit the world they're not trying to win the the casinos are trying to win they want to make revenue they want to maximize their profits and they're in a kind of partnership with the gamblers but it's a very asymmetric partnership because the gamblers don't want to win they want to just keep going and this is the world that our president comes out of yeah and you could say that you know some people have have likened gamblers to factory workers who are sort of alienated by the machine I don't see it that way this is much more about machines designed to synchronize with what you want in this case escape and then profit from that and people have called it a mode of ludo capitalism and I think in a way you could connect that to the kind of ludo politics that we see what do you mean by ludo capitalism luteal well let pleasure that you or what you want what you want is to escape to get into a flow to be sort of taken away from yourself it's very effective and I think this is what we see in the political domain a lot and even in the kinds of rallies and the surging of feelings and the absorption and the distraction right I mean if you look at the way a casino is designed and remember that Trump is the designer of many casinos including his non casino properties they follow these same they follow these same design logics of sort of disorientation right disorientation and trying to sweep people away from themselves away from rationality away from a position where they have clear lines of sight and can act as decision-making subjects you see that on the floors of casinos you see it in the mathematical algorithms and I think you see it in political rhetoric today and the people you write about in your book are often people without disposable income I mean they write and the reason that they are feeling so burdened by this pressure to maximise and make the right choices is because they don't they simply don't have the resources or the knowledge to do that I mean they're living in rather precarious circumstances they are experiencing volatility or a sense of it all around themselves and so what they're seeking in gambling ironically is an escape from volatility they want to recline on that couch they want to become absorbed and swept away and not have to make choices and I think the other analogy we could draw from your book is that this attempt to rebuild an economy through gambling whether that's through hedge funds or whether that's through casino magnets like Sheldon Adelson or is is built on sand it and perhaps you can address that kind of broader issue well some critics of the industry have actually called out its members as themselves acting you know if you if you if you look in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for psychological disorders and you look under addiction those features of what makes an addict describes pretty well how state governments and gambling equipment menu because they are now they're seeking a quick fit their demand they're seeking to fill their revenue holes by building casinos right and they're ignoring consequences they they're in this sort of selfish loop of a quick fix to gain more revenue it's a kind of runaway train a addictive kind of process that they are caught in and if you look at actually what's happening in the market it's no longer just Las Vegas Atlantic City and a few casinos we've got market saturation 40 states now or something right well I think in almost every state you can I think you if everyone can get to a casino in about half an hour and really it's the it's the slot machines that are bringing in the money and more and more states are looking to them as a way to not raise taxes right and get this other I think it's quite clearly a tax on on the poor and very ethical II problematic and I think part of the problem is that all of these governments are caught up who are profiting on the taxes from this right they're just they don't know what else to do they are addicted to it they are addicted to this revenue and it's an incredibly short-sighted perspective it is built on sand when you saturate the market this by the way as I mentioned before is what happened in Yugoslavia the economy went tanked they started building casinos that worked fine as long as they were a few what happens when you saturate the market well when you saturate the market you've got more and more gamblers you have to come up with new ways of keeping them in their seats and then you've got to make machines on this time more and more on this time on device kind of model that's shaving off of people sitting there longer right you can't just fleece people you know in the early in the early days of online websites you could just throw up a website you are assured of having an audience and customers now not so much you've got saturation there as well and you see that in casinos and that's reflected in the design of the machine it's really all about how to keep people coming back as lifelong lifelong customers well the other promise they make is that when you build casinos it brings in good jobs stable jobs but when you saturate the market as we've seen in Atlantic City where revenues have been cut in half since its heyday from about 5 billion a half-billion that all of these jobs unionized jobs are gone people have essentially low-wage workers again temporary workers without benefits that that all of the promises that are initially made within a relatively short period of time co-op and smoke yeah I mean it's been really awkward for me to testify in front of different legislators on the sort of anti casino slot revenue but in the room with me are always unions that come out in full force because they want these jobs and I think they are being sold something that they're not gonna although they're they're being broken in Atlantic City we've seen yeah thousands of unionized workers including at the Trump Taj Mahal tossed out into the street right and they closed the casino long enough so then when they reopen and rehire they're hiring non-unionized workers right so I think this also reflects more generally in the the coming administration what are the consequences for us as a country economically in terms of you know this saturation of gambling as a kind of pastime I mean in your book you're talking about how these slot machines are in you know convenience stores and airports and I mean they're everywhere Bick WA tiss it's also not just I mean it's for me the slot machine case is really a case study of something far broader and you can see it most approximately you could say in Facebook and all of these kind of freemium games that you play on your devices I think we make too much of the money aspect of gambling we put it in this separate kind of box I think the time is very important and I think it's part of this more general sucking of our time sucking of our attention and our energy and this kind of distraction economy that takes us away from the actual reality that is unfolding and really needing to be addressed so in that sense the consequence is deep politicization right well they've done a damn good job look at the result thank you very much that was Professor Natasha Daschle author of addiction by design machine gambling in Las Vegas over the last two years 92% of corporate profits in America have been spent on refusing to carry out long-term investment buying back stock firing workers or has been paid out as dividends to raise the price of stock the failure to carry out capital formation such as building new factories and hiring more workers is economic suicide it creates a system where wealth is not generated but redistributed largely through gaming the stock market or stripping companies for assets until they collapse this is how Donald Trump and most of the billionaires around him made their fortunes we roll the dice they are the house American oligarchs the top 1% of whom now have as much wealth as the bottom 40% of the country are cannibalizing America looting and stealing as much as they can before the edifice disintegrates the question is not if a crash will come but when and the damage these speculators and gamblers have done to our system of casino capitalism may be irreversible thank you for watching you can find us on our t.com slash on contact you




Comments
  1. If everyone suddenly kicked their addiction the people like tRUMP and other life sucking billionaires would lose A LOT OF MONEY!!!

  2. The BC government has now legalized marijuana sale and are raking in money from regulated alcohol and pot sale. It seems the same tactics are used to draw in money (no clocks, bigger discounts on sales, rounded counters etc.

  3. Wow, I'm hearing things like 'time on device' and 'random rewards' and I can't help but think of the present state of the video game industry. I've been gaming for 20 years, and this new trend of lootboxes, microtransactions, always online, live services seems straight out of the casino gambling playbook. Americans spend more on video games than movies and sports nowadays, but the stigma of it being for nerds and kids keeps it under the radar of scrutiny. If you have kids who play online video games please pay attention to what they're doing. Some kids and easily manipulated adults are spending thousands of dollars on these lootboxes and microtransactions.

  4. In downtown Detroit, there is a private parking space owned by a casino. When you park your vehicle and want to walk to the city, you are forced to pass thru the casino. You do not have to enter the casino but the casino's gate is very intriguing and welcoming. The pass-way from the parking garage to the city and the casino entrance emerging in the pass-way reminds you the scene from The Wizard of OZ when Dorothy stepping into Technincolor after being hit by the storm.

  5. Casinos are so effing BORING , except for the Super Models, they're bitchin.
    Nothing like playing a nice game of Harpoon (or Chess or Go) in the casino Starbuck's.

  6. Trump is evil !!!he designed the slot machines to indoctrinate us to salvation to get away from reality!!! Thats what i understood from this intelligent woman who made alot of money on peoples addiction !!!

  7. By the description of a Casino that she mentioned, is what i was always wanted to getvaway from reality.Thx for the info ill go check one out!!!

  8. The way this woman talks pisses me off. Can she say ANYTHING at ALL without that stupid smirk on her face?? Like, "I have ALL the answers – let me fill you in and EDUCATE you my ignorant little student"

  9. Oh shit, that's why the Trump supporters and Corporate Democrats stick with them no matter what. They're the dealer and people need their fix.

  10. I'm really shocked at how many people I know who act like the Casino that went up where I live is going to be great for employment in our poverty stricken County {Wayne} I try to explain to them that Casino's are NOT placed where they are to help the area out of the deep slump we have been in since most all of the Manufacturing company's pulled out in the 90s but instead vacuum up the remaining cash from the region once you see a Casino going up in a area that has been economically depressed for as long as Wayne County NY has been it's NOT a sign that things are looking up but rather the Death nail for the economic coffin they just erected . yes a few Cheap auto dealerships have been built but I can assure all of you car dealerships are certainly NOT in short supply Or anything our community need's . These Casino's are normally built in area's where Taxes are about as low as they can be and the region being as desperate as it is say's yes to almost every request Or variance applied for ..and while it might benefit a few for a short time you have got to understand the Casino is NOT built to Help increase anyone's wealth but there own . They are designed to remove cash from the area NOT install it . So desperate people show up with child support payments car payment house payments unemployment checks and pray they win but like we all know the house always win's .. WE the working class people have been AND are being systematically looted & pillaged the Rip off began in earnest right after GW Bush and the Crew from the CFR hijacked the white house in 2000 because it was almost to the minute he was installed that nearly ALL petroleum products started to go thru the roof without end And the dead give away was the complete lack of any push back from our News Media Or Government , maybe you remember back when clinton was president and the Petroleum cartel used to try and jack gas prices how you would hear Clinton talk about asking the DOJ to look into price Gouging and such and the prices would stay around a 1.07 to like 1.15 but a day after Bush that doubled without a single word from anyone except the people who use there cars to drive to work .. We are being milked like cash cow's from every angle .. When are you going to say enough..

  11. 23:50 right on. We selfie generation are too busy trolling the media and playing games to think, meditate, analyze, understand and act for our fellow man or a healthier future for our country. It's all about me and my short-term gratifications.

  12. I hate how you don’t let your guests even finish a sentence! You are constantly interrupting the thought being conveyed! Makes me nuts!!!!

  13. Americans, you must see the evil things done by America over the last 100 years, go to THIRD WORLD TRAVELER and search out CIA and FBI for starters!

  14. Thank you, "in whole or in part by the Russian government," for what the corporate US media won't report.

  15. My take on gambling is slightly different. People who gamble are just fucking stupid.
    Also, this is 2/21/18, and I'm still reeling from the fact that we put a baboon like trump in the white house.

  16. Last month I went to Excalibur in Las Vegas for a job interview and now they have The Simpsons slot machine.

  17. I used to live in Las Vegas move back to New York in 2010 but I frequently go back to visit family and friends and there definitely is a problem in that they are turning people into addicts people gamble when they are depressed to escape reality and end up in the worst cases homeless at least two people I know and I'm friends with in Las Vegas only have a roof over their heads because of the kindness of a relative or a friend

  18. This all applies to contemporary video games, especially the mobile gaming market. They are creating a culture of hyper consumers within the gaming spaces I grew up in.

  19. y a the video is of best cause I spend more ah halt millions dollars.in one casino .I worked Hart for that money .only for put at way in casino like stupid!!!!? wen kan have that money never!?!?!??

  20. ya in Washington.state is already to much casinos drain up all money from the medium class and poor making more poor complete I like at virus. even me I lost like stupid $.500.000.00 dollars how can get my money back???😠

  21. That woman Natasha Dow Schüll is a very smart girl. Trust me. Look at her reviews, interviews, she knows what she is talking about.

  22. Academic Marxists, in the sense of tax-payer/FED paid civil servants, need to be reminded this:
    A corporation the size of a nation = communism = Total state central planning= total controll of an elite over the masses=disastrous massmurder thru corruption (USSR + China). Confirmed by Karl Marx: Power is corrupting…

    From the time of the Pharao’s divine rule and other feudal systems, the rulers and the rich few always declared themselves Gods and the masses slaves.

    We come from central control over nations riches by Kings, Queens, Generals and colonels during colonial times. They transformed into the international Billionaires class nowadays, added with US monopoly bankster Billionaires and criminal Russian olichargs. Together as a class, they constitue International Organized Crime. The illegal wars, CIA drugs running, arms and human trafficking+ money laundering by the Banksters etc…

    We need to go to individual liberties for ALL peoples in ALL nations, anchored in Universal Laws. And having fair Trade among ALL nations of the globe, no exceptions allowed. Any true democracy of the middleclass, will have policies for a Full employment economy and rising real wages.

    This means private property, regulated markets by universal Laws, decentralization of state power as much as possible. A limited effective, federal state doing Justice for all in conflict resolution, non-intervention, and more public GOOD.

  23. Casino-Disasterism Capitalism is well named — All of the engineered mechano-psychological traits used to make longshot escapist-gambling popular, lucrative and addicting, based on the faux-goals of numb indulgence, cultivating of cheap-thrill delights, pandering to the conceits of synthetic wastrel satisfactions and dead-end fatalism — is evident in the terminal phase of the global corporate deepstate technoracy of Empire Inc. that is pillaging and plundering its way across the planet, securitizing the earth right out from under our feet! ~ ; )

  24. OK risk is a part of life. There are ways to break the bank. One is roulette sequences. There is one fellow that has hit it out of the park with a mathematical analysis of payouts.The system is simple but requires spotting tables that are out of alignment. Thus the ball will tend to favor a spot. I won't tell you how since this is elementary knowledge. And all roulette wheels are different. We simply take advantage of the data generated by online gambling Also a casino outing can be salubrious especially if you take public transit. Like an afternoon of golf. I generally like to find a beatable game of blackjack and count cards. I may stand at the blackjack table for additional cardio. I have some sweet memories to take into the foxhole with me. All the better if you can find some Fremont Street pen. So please don't go telling me i can't have this activity. There are always opportunities like miscalculated odds. I have made tons of $$ using a computer program and a top end Mac to play online blackjack. I was never detected because my software could easily play blackjack in real loafing ef…ng time. It could also track decks in casinos with trackable shuffles. But i digress.

    Why does the internet allow citizens of the USA to play slot games from all over the world while forbidding the play of all foreign table games, the only way to ever make money as a civilian? Easy. Trump supporters love their slot machines. Ahem, Mr. Sessions! Let Americans play all foreign table games. Also at present there are many side bets that are beatable online. Need i say more? Actually one of the trickiest things is to figure out how much to tip and still keep winning. Please let us nerds have a chance to redistribute the wealth our way! And let us have some fun with the matrix as a stand-up indoor sport.

  25. Wonder how well the rise in gambling correlates with the percieved likely hood of success by any other means goes down.

  26. The Clinton era, signified so much. Basically, in regard to this aspect, the very ending of any culture whatsoever; gambling casinos took over our down-towns, and our oldest landmarks. I went in once and saw those carpets and nearly puked. Now she tells why they are so ugly. Why any human being would find that appealing reminds me of Kissinger's infamous quote: "We've successfully made the public so dumb, I cannot die. For there is no one to replace me.."

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