The 60 Minutes hit piece on slot machines finally came out. I’ve been hearing about this for a while, and it was actually about what I expected:
We Americans spend more money on slots than on movies, baseball and theme parks combined.
But with the modern slot machines, there is a greater potential for a dangerous side effect: gambling addiction, as more people are addicted to slots than any other form of gambling.
The most disturbing thing about the piece, as journalism, is that it takes on faith the claim that “modern” slot machines are more addictive than older ones, but tries to run Dr. Shaffer through the wringer when he says that slot machines aren’t inherently addictive, and that its more a function of the personality than the machine.
And of course there’s the dig that “the gambling industry loves to quote” him, which might be because he’s a recognized expert on addictions. His is the Director of the Harvard Medical School’s Division on them, who I’m guessing has worked in greater breadth and depth with addictions and addicts than the anthropologist who seems to be the hero of the story.
Then you’ve got the selective use of statistics and cherry-picked personal stories that, while heart-breaking, don’t reflect the majority of slot players.
It’s just bad journalism.
As I’ve suggested before, the casino industry could be more proactive about getting better information into the public arena about slot machines. It has a goldmine of data about slot play: why not allow outside researchers to access a database that’s been stripped of all personally-identifying information? That would let them determine how long the average player plays for, and what the patterns of play over time are. The researchers could prove or disprove the hypothesis that “modern” machines cause more addictions quite easily.
There are some logistical challenges there, but it’s nothing that couldn’t be overcome. The more data that’s out in the public domain, the better idea everyone will have of the real nature and extent of problem gambling, and might lead to those who have problems getting diagnosed earlier.