Online Program

Addiction by design: Problem gamblers, problem machines

Monday, November 4, 2013 : 2:45 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Natasha Schull, PhD, Program in Science, Technology and Society, Massachusetts Institue of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA
Contemporary slot machines, revamped by ever-more compelling technological innovations, have unseated traditional table games as the gambling industry's revenue mainstay. Along the way, they have earned such nicknames as "electronic morphine" and the "crack cocaine of gambling." Does problem machine gambling stem from inside the gambler, from inside the device, or from the interaction between the two? Drawing on fifteen years of research among game engineers and machine gamblers in Las Vegas, Schüll argues that to understand electronic gambling addiction it is necessary to look beyond afflicted gamblers and take account of the environments, products, and business practices of the gambling industry. She travels “inside the machine” to examine how contemporary slot machines—their game algorithms, their cash access systems, their ergonomic design—work to facilitate gamblers' escape into a trancelike state in which daily worries, social demands, and even bodily awareness fade away. Gambling addiction, she argues, emerges out of the dynamic interplay among corporate interests, product design features, the human sensorium, and consumer vulnerabilities.

Learning Areas:

Environmental health sciences
Social and behavioral sciences
Systems thinking models (conceptual and theoretical models), applications related to public health

Learning Objectives:
Explain how different gambling formats can differently affect the acquisition and course of gambling addiction Analyze the case of slot machine addiction as a dynamic interaction among corporate interests, product design features, the human sensorium, and consumer vulnerabilities

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have conducted research on gambling for the past twenty years, focusing on the relationship between problem gambling behavior and the products and practices of the gambling industry. My research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.