60 Minutes hits slots

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.

via Slot Machines: The Big Gamble – 60 Minutes – CBS News.

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.

5 thoughts on “60 Minutes hits slots”

  1. I agree with your take, David. I thought it was also interesting, while interviewing Ed Rendell, that Lesley Stahl adamantly stood by her assertion that state-regulated gambling was nothing but predatory. And she refused to give Rendell’s argument that people would be doing it anyway in another locale absolutely no credence.

  2. Journalists love to turn a story on slot machines into a story on slot machine addiction.

    The gambling industry has the usual pamphlets and website pages and that is about all any casino can do about gambling addiction, drug addiction, or addiction to watching reality TV programs about ill-behaved vixen on the Jersey Shore or ill-behaved Gold Diggers in California.

    Everyone “knows” the new slot machines reach out and snag passersby who are potential addicts just as everyone “knows” the new slot machines are tighter on Tuesdays.

  3. The thing with these Slot Addicts that is not mentioned . Is that they probably have addictive personalities .Slots are just the one thing that their addiction is focused on.People who have an addictive personality can become addicted to a lot of things, not all gambling and drug related. Like internet,food,work,exercise,etc…

  4. Could not agree more. This was an appalling piece of journalism by an organization that has some respect in the U.S. But having been on the receiving end of other 60 Minute stories in the past, I know now their MO. Which is to decide on what the slant of the story is and let nothing dissuade you or change your perception (or that of the viewer). ALL the evidence they presented was anecdotal. They didn’t even try to use any of the data that has long proven to be unreliable, it was just an attempt to persuade through fear. They completely mangled Dr. Shaffer’s interview to fit their agenda, while editorializing on him before and after the interview. Rendell was great because he got fed up with their slant and when they wouldn’t listen to reason, he went ballistic! Good for him!

  5. The person sitting next to you in church, the man in line at the grocery store, or one of your co-workers; any one of these could be involved with a gambling problem. Imagine your grandmother committing a crime to support her gambling addiction. I am a recovering alcoholic, gambler, and have recovered from other addictive behaviors. I published a book, Gripped by Gambling, where the readers can follow the destructive path of the compulsive gambler, a prison sentence, and then on to the recovery road.

    I recently published a second book, Switching Addictions, describing additional issues that confront the recovering addict. These are two books you might consider adding to your library. I also publish a free online newsletter, Women Helping Women, which has been on-line for more than ten years and is read by hundreds of women (and men) from around the world. (www.femalegamblers.info)


    Marilyn Lancelot

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