‘How’s that lottery treating the school system? Better or worse? Gotta keep that retarded form of gambling going to send the message to all the retarded kids that are dropping out of the LA Unified school district. . . .Let’s get the people who should be spending their money on their kids and their lunches, instead the money is going to scratchers. . . The worst message you can send to a community, to your citizens, especially to students, is to play the lottery. It’s a horrible message to send to the community. It’s the opposite of everything this country is and should stand for. Here’s what this country is: level playing field, roll your sleeves up, get to work, bust your ass, and you can make it here.’
‘Lottery is the antithesis of the message this country is trying to send: ‘Hey, man: spin the wheel. Maybe you’ll get lucky.’ And it just preys on stupid people.’
Speaking of gambling, in the beginning of this year, 60 minutes conducted a piece on the debate over new slot machines and gambling addiction:
And yet state after state is turning to slots as an easy way to raise revenue and increase jobs. And no state has been more aggressive in luring gaming in the last few years than Pennsylvania, where the opening of the "SugarHouse" in September made Philadelphia the largest U.S. city to house a casino.
So far there are ten gambling halls in the state, with plans for 61,000 slot machines. An 11th casino, on the drawing board, would be near the main entrance to the Gettysburg National Battlefield.
Governor Ed Rendell, who's about to leave office, championed the casinos. "Look, gambling is not anything we should say, 'Oh, thank the Lord, we have gambling.' But it is a decent way to raise revenue where the upsides that's produced is significantly better than any downside that comes from it," he told Stahl.
"You said there was downsides to gaming. What are they?" Stahl asked.
"The biggest downside is that some people lose their paychecks. But understand, Lesley, they're not losing their paychecks because Pennsylvania instituted gaming. These people were losing their paychecks in Atlantic City, in Delaware at the racetracks or in West Virginia," Gov. Rendell said.
"So why not lose it here," Stahl remarked.
"Well if they were going to lose it anyway, let's get the upside. We were getting all the downside and none of the upside," Rendell said.
The upside, he says, is the $1 billion the state got in gambling revenue last year, which was used to provide a $200-a-home property tax reduction, plus more relief for senior citizens.
"People have been gambling since organized society was formed on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates. They were gambling. And they will gamble as long as there's life on this planet. And that's a fact," Rendell told Stahl.
The thing I love about 60 Minutes is the follow-up questions and trying their best to keep the interviewees feet to the fire when they try to avoid a question or give a non-answer.
What I wished Stahl would have asked is the question that often goes unasked, yet so many people are probably thinking it: ‘Are you stupid, or a liar?’ after the exchange below.
"You brought these casinos to the state. Do you ever just say to yourself, 'Oh, my God, there are a lotta people who are suffering. And they're taking whatever money they have…," Stahl asked Pennsylvania's Ed Rendell. "…and they're throwing it away in these casinos.' And do you ever just say…'Oh, what have I done?'"
"You don't listen. Anyone who has that bent would be doing it in other places had Pennsylvania not legalized gambling," Rendell argued.
"The counter argument is that you're creating new gamblers. And lots of new gamblers," Stahl said.
"We're not creating new gamblers," Rendell replied.
"Well, 'cause it's down the street," Stahl said.
"Those people play the lottery. They bet on football. How much money is bet on the Super Bowl," Rendell said.
"People are losing money for the state to get its revenue. They're losing money," Stahl said.
"Let me answer this. I've known of for two or three decades, you're a very smart person," Rendell said.
"But not now," Stahl remarked.
"But you're not getting it," Rendell replied.
"I'm dumb now," Stahl said.
"You're not getting it. Those people would lose that money anyway. Don't you understand?" Rendell replied.
Our pressing him on this point led to an angry response from Rendell: "You guys don't get that. You're simpletons. You're idiots if you don't get that!"
Supposedly we’re the idiots for not getting it, but I would posit that Rendell is either stupid himself or lying, if he truly believes that he won’t be creating new gamblers in Pennsylvania.
Again, Stahl’s follow-up question to Rendell’s claim that legalizing gambling and adding casinos in Pennsylvania will not create new gamblers should have been: “Are you stupid, or are you a liar?”
Think about it. In Massachusetts, there are no casinos or gambling, except for the aforementioned retarded lottery system, which somehow is exempt from being considered gambling. In Connecticut, there are a few casinos in which residents can travel by car in a few hours to visit. Let’s say we’re talking about the people in Middlesex County, MA, a population of 1.5 million. It’s estimated that 1-2 percent of the population in MA are “already purchasing Massachusetts State Lottery products, playing keno in their neighborhood stores, or visiting the Connecticut casinos and Rhode Island slot parlors.” Although UMass-Dartmouth reports that 29% of MA residents have gambled at a casino in the last twelve months.
So just take the 1 percent and apply it to Middlesex County, estimating that 15,000 residents make the pilgrimage to Foxwoods a couple times a year. Now imagine if a casino the size of Foxwoods landed somewhere in a densely populated area of the County. Would 1 percent of the population patronize the new Middlesex casino or would the number rise? And would Rendell argue that since these people bet on the Super Bowl, that means they already gamble, say $100 a year on sports, they would just spend $100 at the casino instead, or split it 50/50?
It’s a volume issue. If you handed out free cocaine to all Massachusetts residents and told them they were helping the citizens if they used it and then bought more, do you think the number of people addicted to cocaine would increase?
In an even more ludicrous exchange on the same segment:
And yet not everyone is convinced the machines addict people. Listen to Dr. Howard Shaffer, the director of the Harvard Medical School Division on Addictions, the man the gambling industry loves to quote.
"And your position is machines are not addictive, that machines, inanimate objects, are not addictive?" Stahl asked.
"Machines didn't make me do!" he replied with a smile. "If slot machines caused addiction, then most people who played slot machines would develop addiction, and it's the opposite."
"But at one point you said that slot machines were the 'crack cocaine' of gambling," Stahl pointed out. "And how does that square with what you're telling me today?"
"Not everybody who uses crack cocaine becomes addicted," Dr. Shaffer said.
"Yeah, but nobody's going to sit here and try to tell me crack cocaine isn't addictive. And if this is like crack cocaine, the conclusion is it's addictive," Stahl said.
"I don't come to the same conclusion," Shaffer replied.
"How could you not?" Stahl asked.
"Because a majority of people that have used cocaine have not developed cocaine addiction. Only a small minority have, and the same would be true with gambling," he replied.
In this case, Stahl keeps Shaffer’s feet to the fire and gets the quote that really illuminates the retarded logic that Shaffer invokes on the subject of addiction.
In Shaffer’s world, cigarettes aren’t addictive because he could argue that a majority of people that have used cigarettes have not developed an addiction to smoking. Based on this same logic, cigarettes don’t cause disease either. Only about one in ten smokers develop lung cancer, so that means cigarettes don’t cause lung cancer. If cigarettes caused lung cancer then most people who smoked would develop lung cancer, and it’s the opposite.
In this sense, lung cancer and addiction are character flaws. If more people don’t get addicted to gambling than do, Shaffer apparently believes that anyone who becomes addicted has a lack of willpower (“Machines didn’t make me do!”). I wonder if Shaffer thinks overweight and obesity is also due to a lack of willpower, because he should think the opposite, since the majority of adults (about 70%) are now either overweight or obese.
The neurotransmitter of pleasure, sex, drugs, and rock and roll = dopamine.
Nearly all addictive drugs, directly or indirectly, target the brain’s reward system by flooding the circuit with dopamine.
Generally speaking, anytime you do something that makes you feel good, your brain spurts out dopamine.
What is the ultimate purpose of movement from an evolutionary standpoint? To get you to food, to get you to sex...to get you to your reward.
That's why the same chemical that controls motivation - in other words it controls what you want - also controls movement.
In an experiment reported by Radiolab, on a podcast called Stochasticity (a fancy word for randomness), researchers studied dopamine in monkeys (Wolfram Schultz in the 1970s), in which the monkey would get some juice and measure the activity of dopamine. Dopamine would hit when the monkey took the sip of juice (reward). After awhile, the monkey would get the dopamine hit when the feeder came into the room and turned on the light. After more time, the dopamine hit when the researchers feet could be detected heading toward the door.
The theory is that monkey is trying to piece together the sequence of events that leads to juice. The cells try to predict rewards, finding the pattern of the thing that makes you feel good - pattern sensing - it parses reality in terms of rewards.
The way you get more food in the wild than the animal or animals you’re competing with is you can see the reward before anyone else can. In a sense, we’re all like contestants on Jeopardy! trying to recognize patterns before our competitors and our brains reward us with a feeling of pleasure when we find them. Unless you’re Watson:
Cells happen to be very sensitive to surprising rewards. It’s your brain's way of saying 'pay attention, you just got something for free. ‘Hey, this must be good. Sit here in this velvety chair and try to figure out this reward.'
In the podcast Radiolab on stochasticity: Seeking Patterns, there was a story about a woman with Parkinson's and was taking a dopamine agonist (Re-quip?), which activates your dopamine receptors...the sex, drugs, and rock and roll chemical.
Again, cells are very sensitive to surprising rewards, which are basically slots in a nutshell. You pull a lever and the machine is making a jumbled sound and lights are flashing and the wheel stops and you win. And your mind is saying 'what the crap just happened? That was awesome! Let's hit it again!’
Problem is, when you're playing slots, you're trying to find a pattern in an inherently random system. Seems like there are patterns (bells, lights, time to stop), but there aren't. If you're taking a dopamine enhancer, the reward of winning a $300 pull is going to be even more likely to outweigh the fact that at the end of the day you dropped $500 because your brain is going to want to go back and crack it.
I'm not sure about the science, but my hunch is this is one of the ways in which ritalin or adderall works for people with ADHD works - and for people that take these types of drugs as "neuroenhancers." Why does a healthy student take ritalin to crank out a paper where they're going to have to spend 4-8 straight hours on the thing? You take the ritalin and start working on your paper. You seemed more focused on the task and it seems more interesting to you. You don't get bored of it, when normally you would have stopped working on the paper. The dopamine is flowing and now you're doing a task that you're seemingly deriving great pleasure from.
Your brain is intoxicated at the possibility that it will learn how to succeed...how to crack the code. With gaming, I think it does come down to almost animal behavior where you're trying to find the pattern that gets you the chow.
I also think this is why even if Tiger, Mozart, Van Halen's kid, Agassi, et al. are "forced" to play tens of thousand of hours of their respective game, when they become so proficient at it, when they know the pattern before their opponent, or when they can almost see the entire composition after writing half of the music in the first act - if they've been there before - the reward centers turn on earlier and earlier and they can be "neuroenhanced" the moment they start writing an opera or playing in their next major tournament. They will derive pleasure from it. I think that's why Agassi seemed kind of confused about how he had this negative association with Tennis and his Dad, but wound up coming back and still playing the game that supposedly made him miserable.
Even for people who play a lot of video games, when they tear open the box containing the next great single-shooter game, the dopamine's kicking in before they’ve even fired their first bullet.
For experienced gamers, there is also so much implicit learning from playing video games that it gives them an edge against the computer and many other gamers that it increases their chance at success and reward.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this a while ago, and actually invoked a video game to demonstrate the types of learning (and the difference between "Choking" and "Panicking"):
"Choking" sounds like a vague and all-encompassing term, yet it describes a very specific kind of failure. For example, psychologists often use a primitive video game to test motor skills. They'll sit you in front of a computer with a screen that shows four boxes in a row, and a keyboard that has four corresponding buttons in a row. One at a time, x's start to appear in the boxes on the screen, and you are told that every time this happens you are to push the key corresponding to the box. According to Daniel Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, if you're told ahead of time about the pattern in which those x's will appear, your reaction time in hitting the right key will improve dramatically. You'll play the game very carefully for a few rounds, until you've learned the sequence, and then you'll get faster and faster. Willingham calls this "explicit learning." But suppose you're not told that the x's appear in a regular sequence, and even after playing the game for a while you're not aware that there is a pattern. You'll still get faster: you'll learn the sequence unconsciously. Willingham calls that "implicit learning"--learning that takes place outside of awareness. These two learning systems are quite separate, based in different parts of the brain. Willingham says that when you are first taught something--say, how to hit a backhand or an overhead forehand--you think it through in a very deliberate, mechanical manner. But as you get better the implicit system takes over: you start to hit a backhand fluidly, without thinking. The basal ganglia, where implicit learning partially resides, are concerned with force and timing, and when that system kicks in you begin to develop touch and accuracy, the ability to hit a drop shot or place a serve at a hundred miles per hour. "This is something that is going to happen gradually," Willingham says. "You hit several thousand forehands, after a while you may still be attending to it. But not very much. In the end, you don't really notice what your hand is doing at all."
My opponent has his the equivalent of several thousand forehands when it comes to gaming. I still need to think about which button I'm supposed to press to reload my weapon. I think this may apply to pattern-breaking, where not only is the use of the controller implicit, but the pattern-breaking becomes implicit, too. So now when the expert gamer fires up the XBOX, they're already getting some reward - some dopamine. And there's still the randomness that the opponent brings that keeps your brain competitive.
When you're on the battlefield in Modern Warfare, evolution can be kicking in from a survival standpoint, even though it's a game. Staying alive, even in gaming, is determined by recognizing the patterns before your online foes do.
Gambling might be the sneakiest addiction, or disease, out there. People probably ruin their lives and the lives of their families more quickly than being addicted to drugs. It’s hard to find an addiction more effective and efficient than gambling in terms of draining your wallet, career, and relationships.
The meth usually gets the story (like in the case of Agassi), but you could argue that there a lot of people better off doing drugs than gambling. You're not going to buy and consume a pound of cocaine in one night, but there a many people who will drop the amount of money it costs in gambling.
And while I enjoy gambling as much as the next guy, it is a little scary to hear some of the self-justification that goes on with policymakers.