Does that surprise you as much as it surprised me?
My city is considering putting up a mega casino in the downtown area. Most citizens and businesses are opposed to this, but a small group, including the mayor, is gung ho. A barrage of articles have been written on the subject, and I read a few the other day.
Human nature is such that we are genetically programmed to seek rewards. When we receive them, we want to continue the behaviour that brought them. Think of Pavlov’s dogs, or rats in a maze. This can be good – exercising, developing a skill or a talent. Or it can be downright dangerous – like developing a gambling addiction.
Think of the lottery. How many hundreds of dollars does the average player spend before winning $20 or $50 or $100? Doing the math shows the insanity of it. Yet people keep buying lottery tickets even when they know the astronomically low possibility of “the big win”, or how much they spend before they win that little bit.
I used to be one of those lottery dreamers. That’s what I was buying. For a few hours or a couple of days, I could fantasize about spending the $1 million or $5 or $10 million. I could bask in the joys of being generous to people in need and especially to family members and friends. Who wouldn’t want to give up their job, travel and pursue their dreams without worrying about a pay cheque?
I thought the same motivation applied to gamblers – winning “the big jackpot” and dreaming about what they would do with the money. That’s at least partly true for poker, blackjack and roulette players. But studies done with slot machine gamblers in Las Vegas unveiled the surprising truth: most players don’t like to win. Why? The flashing lights and clanging bells that accompany a win are intrusive disruptions that hinder their true desire: to get and remain “in the zone”.
MIT professor Natasha Dow Schull, in her book “Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas”, maintains that “what they (slot machine gamblers) were after was that state of repetitive, numbing, trance-like zone, not the excitement, the thrill and the hope of winning”.
For machine gamblers, the play is the thing – being in that mindless timeless thrill zone of escape from reality. That’s where they want to be and gambling gets them there. Apparently that’s a popular advertising angle these days – pitching casino play as entertainment, conveniently underplaying all the negatives.
I say thanks, but no thanks. All things considered, I would sooner have a distant relative pass on and leave me a few hundred thousand. Enough to pay off the mortgage, top up my savings and go on a cruise…