Sunday, August 24, 2008
Gamblers caught in the 'machine zone'Slot machines have become so sophisticated that their designers can exploit every weakness.
NATASHA DOW SCHULL, Special to the Press Herald
August 23, 2008
Behind the lights, beeps and buzzers, there’s some deep calculation going on. All forms of gambling are not created equal.
Mainers should take this into account when deciding how to vote in November's referendum for a casino in Oxford County.
At the request of the Maine group Casinos No!, I wanted to share my research as a social anthropologist on this social trend.
My studies of gambling have focused on a dramatic turn that has taken place in recent decades from social forms of gambling played at tables – poker, blackjack, baccarat – to asocial forms played alone at video terminals, now the most popular form of gambling.
If voters endorse the proposal to allow an unlimited number of slot machines at an Oxford County casino, residents will be exposed to devices that have been carefully and specifically designed to make them lose as much money as possible.
It's important for voters to understand how these machines work.
Every feature of a slot machine – its mathematical structure, visual graphics, sound dynamics, seating and screen ergonomics – is calibrated to increase a gambler's "time on device" and to encourage "play to extinction," which is industry jargon for playing until all your money is gone.
The machines have evolved from handles and reels to buttons and screens, from coins to credit cards, from a few games a minute to hundreds.
Although gambling machines must by law use random number generators, the results are fed through complicated mathematical algorithms that give game designers a great deal of control over outcomes – leading some to suggest that these algorithms are a high-tech way to "load the dice."
Using advanced computer chips and integrated circuits, the machines are designed to exploit aspects of human psychology, and they do it well.
In the eyes of the casino industry, this may look like success, but it comes at great expense to players.
The rise in slots gambling, fueled in large part by these technological developments, has led to much higher rates of gambling addiction.
This is evident at Gamblers Anonymous meetings in Las Vegas, where the vast majority of participants are machine gamblers.
These gamblers are motivated more by a need to escape reality than any desire for entertainment and excitement.
Without the presence of social elements such as other players or a live dealer, they are able to exit the world and enter a state where everything fades away.
Slot machines so completely concentrate players' attention on a series of game events that anything troubling about their life situations – physically, emotionally or socially – gets blotted out. Players enter what's known as the "machine zone," where even winning stops mattering.
In fact, it can be unwelcome because it interrupts the flow of play. Such players only stop when their credits are consumed.
Discussion of problem gambling typically focuses on individual gamblers and their "predisposition" to addiction.
This focus ignores the fact that some activities are more addictive than others. The aim of the gambling industry is to increase its bottom line, not to create addicts.
But in effect, its efforts to make slot machines so effective at extracting money from people yields a product that, for all intents and purposes, approaches every player as a potential addict – in other words, someone who won't stop playing until his or her means are depleted.
The pro-slots contingent promises increased money for the state, but it's important to understand where that money comes from.
The revenue from slot machines comes not from entertaining but by exploiting people.
Should the government, whose role is to protect its citizens, become a partner in this ethically dubious enterprise?
Maine voters should think twice before allowing more slots in their state.
Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers
ABOUT THE AUTHORNatasha Dow Schull of Cambridge, Mass., is an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her book, "Machine Zone: Technology and Compulsion," will be published next year by Princeton University Press.
Friday, August 22, 2008
One thing you don’t have to guess about is there are some serious problems with this Casino issue. That is very clear.
Another thing we didn’t need to guess about is how the vote was going to go with our selectmen supporting this effort.
People have speculated that the $90,000 that was put aside for economic development was really seed money for the casino effort. $90,000 at a time when we are making humongous cuts to the public safety budget. Now we have Seth Carey publicly asking for the town to spend money on his effort. I believe that those same three selectmen have planned from the beginning to try to push a huge portion of that $90,000 toward the Casino and soon will be looking for more. They didn’t tell you about it when they suggested it but they’ll have to be coming clean about it soon. What you see is not what you get from this group.
Why would any selectman that cares about our town vote to support an effort that clearly has questionable ethical problems, is supporting undesirable changes to the laws of the state, puts the Casino leadership as a voting member (control) of every board that it’s supposed to contribute money too, is sure to increase crime and social problems in our community and is headed by a man that has serious legal and ethical problems himself?
Please don’t tell me that it’s because we need the economic development it will bring. The Portland Press Herald thoroughly shot that argument out of the water. Most of the money will be taking the fast train right out of the state. If it’s located near Rumford we will be significantly expanding our budget for public safety. Just look at the history of what’s happened in other Casino towns.
I’m not saying there won’t be some economic growth and some increase to our tax base, if it’s located in Rumford. I am saying that the financial and social cost associated with those benefits may be dubious at best.
I have taken a “wait and see” approach to deciding on whether to support this Casino effort. After the events of the past week, I’ve come to fully believe it’s a horrible idea for our community. The straw that broke the camels back was that the lack of quality leadership has created serious problems right from the start. Instead of managing the problems correctly, they have only continued to grow larger. I see little reason to believe this trend will change.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
For a town government that talks a good game of providing an “open” government, the majority of Rumford Selectmen have played just the opposite. It seems the “good old boy” method of selecting town leaders combined with a “bait and switch tactic” is how the game is really played.
Look at what happened with our current Town Manager. Len Greaney was pushed into place by 3 of our selectmen by selling him to us as an “interim” town manager. Now that he’s in place, those same 3 selectmen have voted to remove the term “interim” from his title. That sure makes it seem to have been their plan as soon as they did their quick 180 degree turn away from John Madigan. They didn’t tell the people in the community what their plan was. They just snuck him in the back door.
What are Len’s qualifications to be town manager? Know one really seems to know. People have made a big deal out of his experience as an executive for a fortune five hundred company. What exactly did he do for which fortune five hundred company? Someone asked him directly which company he worked for and he refused to answer. If his major qualification is working for this company, why the big secret about it?
Fact is, it seems there really isn’t a lot we do know about Greaney. Did he ever have to supply the town a resume? How about go through an interview process and answer questions about his work experience and qualifications? Were there any background checks done? Based on what we know about him, his major qualifications as a town manager seem to be that he’s buddies with at least 3 of our current selectmen.
This man has an awful lot of responsibility in our town for us to know so little about his background.
If you can get past what appears to be the deception of the “select three” in the way they went about this whole thing, you still have to know they did a great disservice to the town. They robbed us from having the chance to have the best possible candidate leading our town, chosen from a field of qualified applicants.
Our community deserves that, even if it means the town may end up hiring someone that isn’t one of the buddies of these three selectmen.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
We dispute that there are any legal or professional issues that would in any way hinder the project. We will continue to pursue funding and once successful we hope we are able to reengage Pat in her role as spokesperson. We truly believe that we are bringing opportunity to the state, and while the road has been challenging, we will continue to follow our plan of bringing jobs and economic growth to Oxford County and this great state. We would like to wish Pat the best of luck with any future endeavor she wishes to pursue.
Seth T. Carey, Esq.
114 Congress Street
PO Box 100
Rumford, ME 04276
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
“I have a great deal of respect for Pat LaMarche and commend her for her ethical standards. Unfortunately she found out the hard way that ethics and casinos don’t always go together. It’s important to remember that the original promoter of the Bangor casino, Shawn Scott, was unable to obtain a license to operate the casino due to his questionable background, yet he walked away with millions after selling it to another casino developer. This ‘get-rich-scheme’ is no doubt the plan of the Oxford County casino promoters, just as it is for the people behind the latest proposal for slot machines at Scarborough Downs. Meanwhile, the voters are left wondering who is really behind these operations and where the financing is coming from.
“Apparently these questions became too much for Pat LaMarche, or she didn’t like the answers. We hope that she will be even more forthcoming and provide the voters of Maine with the details of her concerns before going to the polls in November.”
CONTACT: Dennis Bailey, 207-347-6077, 207-749-4963
Saturday, August 16, 2008
As supporters of Ocean Properties' proposal for redevelopment of the Maine State Pier, you are no doubt as distressed as we are about the slow progress the city has made since awarding a contract for the job last December.
This Monday at 7 pm, the City Council will consider approval of a "term sheet" for development of the Maine State Pier by Olympia Companies. This document sets out the responsibilities of both the developer and the city in moving forward on this project. We believe, however, the term sheet is as rickety and leaky as the pier itself, and raises many important issues, such as:
The start date for construction can be as late as November 2011, more than three years from now, and can be extended for "good cause," which translates to any reason at all.
- Olympia will lease the site for 75 years, but make no payments until 2032. In other words, the site will be rent free for 20 years, and tax free until Olympia or some other entity builds commercial buildings at the site. This is far less than the company offered in their original proposal.
- The term sheet requires the developer to obtain financing from the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME) for reconstruction of the pier. Whether this is even possible, and what impact it will have on taxpayers or the city's credit rating, is unclear.
- The developer is not required to build a megaberth. Remember, this was a key factor in city's decision to award the contract to Olympia.
- There are no identified tenants for the office building or hotel, and Olympia has not said if it has obtained financing for the project.
These are only some of the questions that now surround the city's deal to rebuild the Maine State Pier. There are many more which will undoubtedly arise at Monday's council meeting.
Please come and offer your thoughts about whether this is a good deal for the city. This is an important meeting for the future of the pier and the future of the city. Let's make sure it's done right.
Friends of the Maine State Pier
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Both of these locations are busy traffic areas in town. To make matters worse, they are both located on hills that make it difficult to see the children crossing the street and cause drivers to speed down those hills a little too fast, a potentially deadly combination.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
There’s a lot that the backers of the Oxford County casino aren’t telling the people of Maine about their proposal.
They love to talk about the (supposed) jobs and taxes it will bring, but ignore other important facts buried in the lengthy legislation that we’ll be voting on in November, such as:
- The Oxford County casino proposal would lower the legal age for gambling from 21 to 19. It would also lower the legal age to work in a casino from 21 to 18. So at a place that features slot machines, card games, roulette, craps and cocktails, we would have teenagers under the legal drinking age gambling and dealing cards. (I guess they’re not concerned with the fact that teen gambling is one of the fastest growing addictions in the country.)
- The Oxford County casino proposal would allow the casino to give credit to gamblers, currently prohibited under Maine law. So when a player has run out of cash, depleted his bank account and reached his limit on his credit card, he can still get credit from the casino owner. More evidence that the house always wins. (And if you don’t think that getting gamblers into debt is part of a casino’s business strategy, click here.)
- In their proposal, the owners of the Oxford County casino have written themselves a 10-year monopoly on casinos. If it passes, no other casino could be built in Maine, and no existing casino (Hollywood Slots) could have table games. If you’re against the spread of casinos, you might think that’s a good thing. On the other hand, the casino promoters often claim that casinos are great for economic development. If true, why should they be the only ones to operate one? If the Oxford County casino is built in Bethel, Rumford – and every other town in Maine – will be denied this wonderful “economic development” opportunity. Seems like the owners want to make sure their wallets are fattened and no one else’s.
- Under current law, in order to get a license to operate a casino an applicant must have “sufficient knowledge and experience” operating slot machines and table games. Since none of those associated with the proposed Oxford County casino have experience in the casino business, they’ve amended the law to allow them to be licensed as long as they “form a partnership with persons or entities” who have casino experience. In other words, the owners and backers of the Oxford County casino can’t possibly be licensed unless they have an experienced partner, and they know this. But who is that partner? Why aren’t they disclosing the partner’s identity? Will voters know who the true operators of the casino will be before they go to the polls in November?
These are just some of the hidden facts surrounding the proposed Oxford County casino. Buyer beware, or rather voter beware. There’s more to this latest casino proposal than its backers are willing to tell you.
For more information – and to donate to the campaign against the Oxford County casino – go to http://www.casinosno.org/