Machines' design stacked

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By Jim Walters


Voters unfamiliar with recent changes in casino gambling should carefully consider their vote in the March 5 Linn County election. Today’s casinos are much different from when Gov. Branstad pulled the handle on that first slot machine to initiate Iowa riverboat gambling on April Fools’ Day 1991.

In early Las Vegas, the “slots” (machine gambling) represented less than 10 percent of the take, while table games represented the rest. Now that situation has entirely reversed. In most casinos, machines now represent more than 90 percent of the take, and are played equally by men and women.

More important, the machines themselves — and the odds behind them — have changed, too. The early mechanical slots offered, for one coin and one pull of the lever, one chance against given (and fairly known) odds.

The advent of electronic machines brought what is known as the “random number generator” chip, quickly followed by what is known as “virtual reel mapping.” Now gamblers could play multiple betting lines — lines no longer truly visible, but hidden in the microchip. Casino owners who adopted the first virtual reel mapping machines saw their profits quadruple overnight.

If you play a modern slot for any length of time, you are guaranteed to lose all your money. The machines can be virtually connected to players’ debit accounts and lines of credit.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Natasha Dow Schull reveals all of this and more in her new book “Addiction by Design: Machine Gaming in Las Vegas.” Schull is a two-decade student of the gambling industry and she has written a withering criticism of how the casinos have exploited problem gamblers and why politicians have allowed it to happen.

Schull says today’s machines are designed to speed up play, extend playing time and, thereby, take all the money.

Schull says the industry’s studies showing less than 2 percent of adults as problem gamblers are both deceptive and out-of-date. First off, that was 2 percent of the “general population” — not of those who gamble. Schull says that some researchers believe problem gamblers actually constitute up to

20 percent of those who gamble.

Cedar Rapids has a proud history of honest labor and civic responsibility. Your community does not need or deserve to be another sorry destination for the gambling industry.

Jim Walters of Iowa City is a frequently published writer on issues of the environment, education and social justice. Comments:

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