*Addiction by Design*

The author is Natasha Dow Schüll and the subtitle is Machine Gambling in Las Vegas.  I read this on the flight back home and it is a good choice for one of the very best books of the year, as well as one of the best books on “behavioral economics” and “nudge.”

Almost every page in this book is instructive.  Here is one good passage of many:

…his department noticed nearly three times as many deaths by heart attack occurring in Clark County as in other counties.  A closer look revealed that two-thirds of the cardiac arrests took place in casinos and realized that the high rate of death had to do with the delays encountered by paramedic teams negotiating their complicated interiors.  Although they arrived at casino properties within four and a half to five minutes of a call, it took them an average of eleven minutes to reach victims inside.

The casinos, by the way, very often do not let the rescue teams come in through the main front door, for fear of putting off their customers.

The very best parts of the book are about the elaborate private sector strategies to milk the clientele for greater yield, and how those desires interact with the very competitive nature of the market:

…the industry has since attempted to strategically steer players…toward the cherry-dribbling, slow-bleeding pole of play, a profit-from-volume formula that one industry member has referred to as the “Costco model of gambling.”


While in the past the typical gambling addict had been an older male who bet on sports or cards for ten years before seeking help, now it was a thirty-five-year-old female with two children who had played video for less than two years before seeking help.


“In my life before gambling, she tells me, “money was almost like a God, I had to have it. But with gambling, money had no value, no significant, it was just this thing — just get me in the zone, that’s all…You lose value, until there’s no value at all.  Except the zone — the zone is your God.”

The book’s home page is here, and the author’s home page is here.  This is an impressive book.  It is also a brilliant study of man-machine interaction and I found it to be a complete page turner.

While we are on the topic, I very recently received a review copy of The Oxford Handbook of the Economics of Gambling, edited by Leighton Vaughan Williams and Donald S. Siegel, which appears to be excellent.


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