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Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  566 ratings  ·  57 reviews
Recent decades have seen a dramatic shift away from social forms of gambling played around roulette wheels and card tables to solitary gambling at electronic terminals. "Addiction by Design" takes readers into the intriguing world of machine gambling, an increasingly popular and absorbing form of play that blurs the line between human and machine, compulsion and control, r ...more
Hardcover, 442 pages
Published June 1st 2012 by Princeton University Press
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Dec 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best, most engaging academic books I have read in a long time. I am an academic, and my field of study is addiction. Needless to say, this kind of writing is totally my bag. However, I didn't just enjoy this book because I am a total nerd for the subject matter. Schull is also just a really good writer. I found her text approachable and engaging. She has a really excellent sense of narrative and flow, and her organization is linear, thematically sound, and well organized. I al ...more
Dec 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most fascinating books I've ever read. It had everything I love - architecture, design, psychology, business, public policy! I have no interest in gambling, so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book.

The book is thorough yet covers a lot of topics, including the environmental design of casinos, the design and ergonomics of machines, how electronic slot machines are mapped so it looks like the odds are better, why people gamble, the way games adapt to players, the massive amoun
Benjamin Buckmaster
The most striking aspect of this book for me is brought up early and often in this volume: gambling addicts know they're going to lose. The incentives for the problem gambler have been assembled at the intersection of psychological disorder, product design, capitalist economics, and local regulation. The objective: increase the time on device for an addicted customer.

This interaction is the product of many defensible decisions, but has a devastating effect on the lives and finances of real peop
Jan 05, 2014 added it
In this book about how people who play video poker and slot machines play not for the reward of winning money, but for the reward of being able to play longer, there's list of preconditions for an activity that lets you get into the state of "flow" (which you sometimes achieve, for instance, when programming) where your sense of time fades along with your concern for the troubles of everyday life:
1. each moment of the activity must have a little goal
2. the rules for attaining that goal must be
Michael Hughes
Read about half and quit only because the information is, for me, of limited utility. Make no mistake, though: this is a dense and carefully researched ethnography, one written with a journalist's gift for storytelling. Very little jargon clouds Schull's prose, a rare thing in academic writing. Addiction by Design is recommended to anyone with an interest in the science of addiction and the ways profiteers manipulate the brain's reward system in order to separate people from their savings. ...more
Konstantin Samoylov
Oct 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Great overview of the gambling business and the addition it's thriving upon. Natasha shows how the gambling ecosystem is designed to create and develop the addiction. The book reflects a solid research work that Natasha conducted. All theses are backed up by examples. All examples are concrete, detailed and linked to the sources. That was a great read.
I've never thought how thoroughly casinos research and design all sides of the gambling experience. AB experiments, big data analysis, user segmen
Dan'l Danehy-oakes
Mar 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Though the main text is only 309 pages long, it took me nearly three weeks to read this volume on "Machine Gambling in Las Vegas". It is dense, and there are another 79 pages of feetnote, many of which sent me skittering to the bibliography.

Dense (in this case) does not translate as "boring" or "hard to read." It translates, rather, as "stop and think a lot", and "give your brain frequent rests."

So what is it about? It makes the following case, more or less:

1) Gaming machines encourage problema
Jim Milway
May 02, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really good book on a very narrow topic - the addiction of people to machine gambling in Las Vegas. Dow Schull is a true academic which is a good thing. She has done thorough research - reviewing other research, attending conferences, talking to the people who are the subjects of her research. Her conclusions are pretty startling, at least to me. Machine gamblers are fully aware that they will lose as the odds are with the house. And as a first year course in statistics will teach us, with eve ...more
Theresa Barton
Aug 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
Machine gambling is a bellwether for the dangers of the human/machine encounter. Machine gambling is, as prof dow-schull reveals, more bizarre beneath the surface. Basically repeat gamblers will spend not just excessive -- barely physically plausible -- amounts of time gambling on machines. They will not go to the bathroom, not eat, and refuse to be disturbed. Dow Schull cites cases where players did not move from their seats when a neighbor is on the floor convulsing from a heart attack, becomi ...more
Dec 06, 2015 rated it it was ok
Interesting and diverse look at video/slot machine gambling. I liked the psychological aspects on design the best, less so the ethnographic descriptions and the emphasis on addiction. I also felt the book could have been shorter/more concise.

Some tidbits:
"“It is not absurd to try diagnosing a civilization in terms of the games that are especially popular there,” he wrote in 1958. Caillois argued that one could make a cultural diagnosis by examining games’ combination of the following four elemen
Robert A
Jul 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Surprising, but quite academic book about gambling addiction to machines (slot machines). Slot machines make up a huge % (~90%) of casino revenues and so much goes into making them more addictive. The machines have gotten more and more computerized and everything has been done to keep people playing for as long as possible. People think that they have a better chance of winning than they really do (virtual reels & "near misses"). Many people use machine gambling as a way to escape life and its p ...more
Laura Bowden
Feb 18, 2021 rated it really liked it
If you engage in machine gambling, you have no idea the degree to which you are being manipulated. You might think you do...but I bet you're wrong. From the shape of the carpet to the facial recognition that determines the payout rate of the machine that you personally are sitting at, based upon your prior play at another machine, in another casino. It's incredible this can be legal. In case you don't know: The house always wins. And the house will pace your losses at a rate that ensures you kee ...more
Sam O’Brien
Jan 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An exhaustive look at an addiction you probably weren't aware of, and if you WERE aware of it you probably didn't know how complex it was. There is no stone left unturned in this book. You get to look at every aspect of machine gambling addiction, from the people who make em to the people who put em out to the people who use em. May slow down sometimes, but for the most part there's always a new piece of information that keeps you reading. After this, it's hard to look at slots the same way. ...more
Mijael Feldman
Jun 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting investigation and dive into the gambling and casino's road to maximize revenue by using their customers/gamblers biases.
It's a perfect guide to understand how to make people addicted, hopefully in your case for a good purpose.

Sounds like the same methods Facebook, instagram, Netflix and other social networks are using to keep us hooked.

The author is sometimes repetitive in her examples, which makes the boom a little boring at times.
Jul 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
After reading this book it strikes me that many of the techniques used in Las Vegas machine gaming are so deceptive they should be illegal--virtual reel mapping, losses disguised as wins, and overproduction of "near misses" (Vegas permits 6X what would occur by chance in a fair game) all give players deceptively false information about their chances. ...more
I finally finished this book. I read this in bits with a lot of breaks in between because the writing was kind of dry, but it had a lot of interesting information. This book looks at how the casino/gambling industry's profit motive and the gambling machines play a part in causing addiction, instead of the common view that it is something within the individuals that causes them to become addicted. ...more
Oct 28, 2018 rated it liked it
An academic but very readable look at how machine design, data science, and casino architecture affect gamblers’ behavior. Personally, I’m not a gambler and, after reading this book, I’m even less likely to become one.
Mar 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A deeply inspired and sophisticated text startling in its insights as to the deleterious effects of American consumerism on the human spirit. I will be mulling over Schull’s revelations for years to come.
Niklas Laninge
A bit too long

I read it as a part of a research project. I found what i needed but after part one and two i lost interest in gambling and it got too caught up with anecdotes.
Oct 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Very good information, but with too many words...
May 08, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: junk
A more sincere title would have been "Superstition by mediocre writing style." ...more
Daniel  Potts
Insanely good. Observant, concise, erudite, and well organised. An extraordinary analysis of the nightmarish confluence of technology, capitalism, and addiction.
Aldo Biagini
May 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Good book that elaborates well on the many different facets involved in machine gambling and addiction. Sometimes it gets a little repetitive, though.

Overall, it's worth it.
Kevin Whitaker
Aug 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: behavior
Fun topic to read about, and some nice nuggets, but quite long given the subject and seemed pretty dated at this point -- would love to read an update.

Three things I learned:
1. A representative quote from a heavy gambler: “I’m not playing to win — I’m playing to keep playing, to stay in the ‘machine zone’ where nothing else matters.” (And most heavy gamblers understand the odds are stacked against them -- even machine technicians can be addicted.)
2. Casino design tips: Lighting should be stead
Dec 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A must read for anyone interested in users and designers of addictive systems
DJ Williams
Jan 18, 2020 rated it liked it
written in a dry, academic tone that makes it a bit of a slog, but very informative. definitely worth a read if you're interested in the topic, but occasionally a bit painful. ...more
Raakhi Chotai
May 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a great great book. Highly recommend.
Padraic Cghln
Mar 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A remarkably well-written and enlightening exploration of the topic
Pete Welter
Nov 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book looks that phenomenon of machine gambling and the addiction that can form to this type of gambling.

The gambling industry frames the addiction discussion entirely in terms of the users of its machines. Addiction or gambling to excess is an internal problem with the person using the machine, either because they are genetically predisposed towards addictive behaviors, or because they are undisciplined and irrational.

What Schill demonstrates here though, is that the machine designers and
Erhardt Graeff
Mar 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is an amazing work of anthropology. The amount and quality of research poured into the author's study of machine gambling makes for a convincing account of how the casino and gambling machine industries continue to refine and perfect slot machines, video poker machines, and other electronic gambling devices in order to keep gamblers in their stools and feeding money into the machine. The odds are stacked against the average gambler in many ways beyond simply the random number generators pow ...more
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Natasha Dow Schüll's graduated Summa Cum Laude from UC Berkeley’s Department of Anthropology in 1993 and returned to receive her Ph.D. in 2003. She held postdoctoral positions as a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar at Columbia University’s Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy and as a fellow at NYU’s International Center for Advanced Studies. She joined MIT's Program ...more

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17 likes · 4 comments
“Csikszentmihalyi identified four “preconditions” of flow: first, each moment of the activity must have a little goal; second, the rules for attaining that goal must be clear; third, the activity must give immediate feedback so that one has certainty, from moment to moment, on where one stands; fourth, the tasks of the activity must be matched with operational skills, bestowing a sense of simultaneous control and challenge.” 1 likes
“The continuity of machine gambling holds worldly contingencies in a kind of abeyance, granting her an otherwise elusive zone of certainty—a zone that Mollie described earlier as “the eye of a storm.” “Players hang, it could be said, in a state of suspended animation,” writes one machine gambling researcher.43 A zone in which time, space, and social identity are suspended in the mechanical rhythm of a repeating process may seem an unpromising object for cultural analysis. Yet such a zone, I argue, can offer a window onto the kinds of contingencies and anxieties that riddle contemporary American life, and the kinds of technological encounters that individuals are likely to employ in the management of these contingencies and anxieties.” 0 likes
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