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on Nov 16, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite

My first job out of Uni was making "games" for slot machines. My soul is forever damaged (not joking). I have horror stories over how much thought goes into the "design."

In a given jurisdiction (State/Province/County) there will be rules about the payout percentage. Anywhere from 90 to 98%. So lets assume 95% percent payout. In the long run, you give me a dollar, I give you back $0.95. Most of the time its zero, sometimes its a bit more than you put in to spin and once in a blue moon its huge. But, on average, you give me a dollar, I give you $0.95.

This is where biology / psychology comes into play. All the games from all the manufactures pay the same (in the long run) in a given state (its the law). The trick is to find the magic reward frequency (think Skinner box from Psych 1000). Occasionally a huge one with not much in between? Lots of little wins and hardly any super huge jackpots? Most of the reward frequencies don't work. The person can escape thinking the game is not fun. There are a few rare evil/magic frequencies that just trap the poor person.

Here is where it gets super evil. When one manufacturer's new game starts to do well in market, other manufacturers will do research (study the content of the reels (the spinning things) from a video capture) and reverse engineer the game's math/reward frequency.

So the same way that AI RNN is a exploring a multidimensional problem space and trying to jump out of local optima to find the true optimal solution. The gambling industry is exploring the dimensions of the mind trying to find the optimal Skinner box to take all your money. They are exploiting a bug in our brains design. We evolved to run around the Savannah and throw things with weird accuracy. We just are not built to defend against it. They should be banned.

> They should be banned.

I would instead suggest mandating a payout percentage of 100%, i.e. the machines make no profit for the owner. Venues might still buy them as ‘entertainment’ but not as profit centres. Instead they would be a customer attraction cost (purchase price plus electricity) for venues like bars and clubs, just like hiring live entertainment.

Gamblers will still gamble on them, thinking they'll be the lucky ones to get the jackpot (and beat the odds) but there would be far less of them around because they wouldn't be profitable to own in themselves. And there would be no motive to make them addictive (because again, no profit motive).

> The gambling industry is exploring the dimensions of the mind trying to find the optimal Skinner box to take all your money. They are exploiting a bug in our brains design. We evolved to run around the Savannah and throw things with weird accuracy. We just are not built to defend against it. They should be banned.

So we should ban viral mechanics, those old Facebook games, dark UI/UX patterns, and pay-to-play mobile games as well? They often work in the same manner, and yet you yourself appear to know the risks and appear to be immune to them.

For the record: I like gambling. I like drinking, too. I have neither a gambling addiction nor an alcohol addiction. Should I be disallowed these things I find pleasurable because a subset of the population abuses these things?

Most of these questions are deeply philosophical and I have no answer for you. But I will ask you this: if giving up on gambling which you are not addicted to but find pleasurable saves a subset of the population that cannot control their own abuse of gambling, would you do it? In fact, to be a bit more specific, if you giving up gambling saved the next Scott Stevens and that persons family from the financial ruin and death that they bring on themselves, would you do it?

Of course, there are counter arguments to this. How can we know that giving up on gambling or even removing the whole gambling industry will help or save anyone? I have no answer. Only opinion. It's a rough one.

Very interesting point. I registered after being a long term lurker just to tell you that I think this is a very interesting way to look at it. I often thing of things as the GP presented it. You're post has me re-thinking it. Thanks for this.

> if giving up on gambling which you are not addicted to but find pleasurable saves a subset of the population that cannot control their own abuse of gambling, would you do it?

This is a very interesting question, thanks for posting it. For me the answer is yes.

Another question: if someone who isn't addicted to gambling doesn't give up gambling to save those who are addicted, what punishment would you support the state imposing? (jail, fines, forced "treatment", etc)

And another: if someone who is addicted to gambling doesn't give up gambling, what punishment would you support the state imposing? (jail, fines, forced "treatment", etc)

I ask these questions because I don't think analogous ones were considered before launching the drug war. For me the answer to both is a whole-hearted "no punishment".

>if giving up on gambling which you are not addicted to but find pleasurable saves a subset of the population that cannot control their own abuse of gambling, would you do it?

I like doing cocaine. The Government sees fit to make it illegal - despite the fact I'm a high functioning user. [hypothetical]

We already have plenty of examples where the government stops us doing stuff that might be fun "for our own good". I'm more on the fence about gambling than drugs - it seems like the start of a slippery slope that would negatively affect raiding guilds the world over...

Those gambling machines are much closer to the shit the tobbaco industry has put on for decades, with all the chemical additives they included so as to maximize the addiction.

Most of the slots these days are just cabinets with touchscreen LCDs, a bill changer, a player's card reader, and a computer running software. Of course it's evil, but I'm surprised they aren't split testing the reward frequencies, and then having the software adjust automatically to the one that generates the most total action for the game. That way they wouldn't have to ripoff other manufacturers' games when they start doing well....all the games would be optimized over time for maximum appeal/profit/addiction.

Gaming regulators prohibit many on-the-fly changes to machines while on the floor. Online casinos certainly could and probably are doing some variation of this though, and all those manufacturers sell "at home" software versions of their machines and would be smart to be doing split testing of player behavior in that software.

I'm aware, but most gambling regulations are heavily influenced by lobbyists. If the industry realized how much more money they could make from this, they would get it approved.

Gambling regulation's #1 worry is fraud/theft. Everything has to be predictable. Builds have to be repeatable. Think about that, gcc has to emit the same binary / assets down to the timestamps from the same inputs. Java too. All source is read, all rng's are run massive numbers of times to experimentally prove them. Program storage needs to be non-volitale and they will run an arc welder across the frame of the box to try and skew the computer.

All of this is to say that they are ultra paranoid of changes that could lead to fraud. Remote updates without their review woudn't pass. With their approval and auditing maybe.

Source: My boss worked in this industry and talks about it basically every lunch.

> I'm surprised they aren't split testing the reward frequencies

Of course this is done. It is just slower than in the web as other people has pointed out you can't change things on the fly.

I worked for the gambling industry and we had a statistics department that take care of this kind of things. You try different machines and you have different local maximums:

- There is the machine for the slow player that is there all day. It gives back a lot of small rewards so people keep playing and playing. It doesn't makes so much money but makes sure that your section of machines (each section is from a different company) is never empty.

- There are hard machines for places like Las Vegas. People bets hard and expects big colorful prices.

- There are machines for the small town casinos. This machines are softer than the ones in Las Vegas. But also optimized for its target audience.

Then there is the amount of noise, your section of machines should look like is giving prices all the time. The design of the cabinet (in Mexico they have a place to put plates as people eats there).

Yes. It is serious business. And there are a million considerations that each company takes into account. A/B testing was there a lot before the web was a thing.

I wonder to what extent the "magic reward frequency" happens to correlate with market movements.

"Richardson’s employer, Colombo Candy & Tobacco Wholesale. Richardson, the company’s controller, embezzled $4.1 million over the course of two years to support her gambling addiction. (In 2014, Richardson, then 54, was sentenced to 14 to 20 years in prison for the crime.) The thefts ultimately put the company out of business."

So a company based on exploiting human addiction caused another company based on exploiting human addiction to go out of business. I can just barely hear the world's tiniest violin playing the saddest song for them.

The casino industry is full of contradictions. Steve Wynn's father was a degenerate gambler who died with serious gambling debts. Sheldon Adelson, who has made billions from gambling addiction, has spent millions fighting online gambling. Why? Here's a direct quote [1]:

"[My father] was poor, but he loved to gamble. I saw the cost of a family immersion into losing money on gaming. When I look at people like that, I see the faces of my parents."

Yet he has no issues with taking money from such families on an unprecedented scale - as long as it's in person. You have to be very...."morally flexible"......to work anywhere near the gaming industry. It is built specifically to create and exploit gambling addiction - roughly 50% of revenue comes from 2% of players.

[1] http://www.fool.com/investing/high-growth/2014/10/20/g2e-201...

>Sheldon Adelson, who has made billions from gambling addiction, has spent millions fighting online gambling. Why? Here's a direct quote

I would venture that the main reason he fights against online gambling is so that people that wish to gamble legally need to come to his physical casinos instead.

It's the same reason that online poker is specifically outlined in Washington State - the native American casinos in the state (especially Puyallup) donated a LOT of money to candidates to make that happen.

Same thing from most in-app purchase based games.

and now the taxpayers pay for prosecuting and housing that person for the next 14 years.

(yes, those companies paid taxes too)

Not to mention all of the other employees who lost their jobs.

Personal anecdote: I worked for a similar company (right down to the "[location] Candy and Tobacco" name) for a summer during college. Picking orders in a warehouse and unloading/loading trucks from 5 AM to 5 PM wasn't exactly fun, but it allowed me to buy textbooks the next semester. Worked with a lot of good people, too. Manual labor alongside people from all walks of life puts things in perspective.

I often worked in the cigarette room picking orders and applying tax stamps. When you're doing that sort of work you're not thinking "Oh man, time to ship out more of the poison to suckers today!" you're thinking, "Oh shit, I need to pick 30 cartons of X and get them stamped before the truck leaves in 20 minutes or I'll be in deep shit".

> those companies paid taxes too

Citation needed.

Nicely spotted, I read the article and missed the irony there.

A really great short documentary on this subject is Louis Theroux's "Gambling in Las Vegas". His frank manner really cuts to the core of not only the length to which addicts will justify gambling but also to the lengths to which the casino employees justify their enabling.



Better version that doesn't have all kind of broken artifacts.

I enjoy hearing the justification of "friendship" between the high roller, and his fixer. Pretty hilarious.

Reminds of the strategies freemium devs employ where they do their best to snare "whales" who are players who will causally drop thousands of dollars on various in-game powerups and skins. There was a report a few months ago claiming these players are responsible for 70% of an app's revenue!

I imagine its similar for casinos, so they have no real incentive to actually stop addiction as addicts are their revenue generating "whales."

Absolutely the case, though casinos don't have quite the same incentives. Freemium devs can't fly in wealthy players and customize their games, for instance.

But this absolutely explains a lot of these things. For a while, I wondered why freemium games don't offer an "unlock all" option for $2, or $10, or $100? Turns out, it's because even $100 would be a massive loss compared to what the 'top' players sink into Candy Crush.

For that matter, the heaviest-drinking 10% of adults consume more alcohol than the other 90% combined.

This whole question has affected my feelings on addiction and vice industries. Its one thing to have an industry that has harmful side effects, or drives some people to failures of willpower. It's another to have an industry that depends on addiction or compulsive use, and it turns out that's almost always the case.

That factoid about the heaviest drinking 10% is probably wrong, by the way.

Basically, it comes out of survey data about how much alcohol people consume. But when you take the actual results from the survey and multiply it by the population of the US, you only get about half as much alcohol consumption as there are sales of alcohol.

So the guy who ran the survey just multiplied all the numbers by two. People who said they had 5 drinks per night, he assumes they have 10 drinks per night. In contrast, the people who said they have 1 drink per month, he assumes 2 drinks per month.

That's pretty dubious. It seems like it's a LOT more plausible that if you have 3 drinks per month, you'd report just one, than if you report 5 drinks per night, actually you take 10.

Reference: http://vinepair.com/booze-news/10-americans-consume-10-drink...

Wow, thank you. That really changes the initial result.

I remember being shocked by those numbers. 10 per night is high-impact even with high tolerance, and totally out of the question for lots of people. For 5% of Americans to drink more than that would be wild, since you've largely slashed your potential demographic to good-sized men.

And the reverse explanation, where the low end is particularly bad at estimating, would match with everything else people estimate. If you have a beer after work and a second with dinner, you can probably say "two a day" with confidence. If you have a glass of wine sometimes, out with friends, but not often, it's not terribly easy to guess whether that's two a month or one every two months.

I sort of see why he used his estimate, because you have to bring up the low end hugely to account for so much absence, but it seems unjustifiable to assume that the heaviest drinkers could even survive having their numbers doubled.

Yeah, I think that probably a huge chunk of the difference is just that actually a lot of alcohol purchased is disposed of unconsumed.

Tie that with a modest increase in the lower-end reporters, and perhaps a modest decrease in the highest-end reporters (are there people who said they average 5 drinks a night who really average 4 because in fact their drinking is variable per night and averaging across a week is more mental record keeping + math than they bothered with when answering a survey?), and you get something that strikes me as more congruent with basically all other facts that I've observed about the world.

Now, that probably does still mean that the top decile accounts for an astonishing percentage of overall alcohol consumption, on a relative basis -- just the absolute amount is less incredible.

The 'failure to consume' part didn't even occur to me. Between half-emptied drinks that go bad and liquor cabinets which have been stocked but barely used for decades, it can't be a small amount.

And yeah - I don't doubt it's a power law thing, pretty much all addictive substances are. I imagine the 95th percentile of use for a lot of drugs would be lethal for a first-time user. But the raw dose claimed for alcohol here was bizarre, and I'm glad to have it explained.

> Freemium devs can't fly in wealthy players and customize their games, for instance.

I wish I could remember the source but I'm sure I've heard of freemium developers researching their biggest whales and then tailoring high end items to match the colours of their favourite football team.

They absolutely do stuff like that. There's a freemium game developer that lives in my neighborhood. Something crazy like 50% of their income came from just a handful of people (literally - something like five people). Naturally, the devs made the effort to reach out and figure out why those people were buying things and what the company could do to keep them buying, asking what features they'd like to see and what models they liked.

Do most capitalistic ventures rely on whales? Or is it limited only to ones that feed off addictions?

Addictive ones only, basically.

There's two things restraining other businesses from profiting like this.

First, lots are basically fixed-consumption - if you buy a vacuum cleaner, there's effectively no chance of selling you another one next week. Across all your customers, you have an effectively flat purchase rate. So all you can do there is improve margins and reach unserved customers (and maybe pursue planned obsolescence).

Second, most unbounded-consumption businesses have normal distributions of consumption. People who buy string cheese maybe eat an average of five a week, with a low-SD normal distribution around that. So you market your cheese sticks to your prototypical customer to maximize profit.

Any power-law business sells to whales. That means drugs and gambling, but I should also observe that enterprise sales count. If Proctor and Gamble will pay 10,000X as much for your security consulting as a local pizza shop, you're selling to whales.

Some games do target individual whales, at least according to one article on gamasutra.

Thanks for sharing—my family was ripped apart due to my father's unbridled gambling. Although it's conceivable that casinos play their part in motivating people to gamble, much of the addiction is a battle within the individuals.

Absolutely an individual choice. Why someone chooses to continue to detriment is an infinte pool of rationalizations.

I did it for the entertainment & group inclusion(poker). I justified it as I didn't lose $200, I paid for several(sometimes many) hours of entertainment. Then one time I ran out of time while I was up several hundred. The next time was again time constrained and I walked w/ $700.* The last time I met an old friend I haen't sen in 15 years and we blew our cash on drinks talking about old times. I figure I'll never be this close to even ever again so I haven't played again in 9 years.

*I'm still way behind, but figure the odds of recouping more are stacked against me.

funny thing about addiction. I agree that in the beginning it's a choice. But i think every event biases the choice a little bit. So, if it's go to the movies or go gambling, the first time around it's a 50/50 split. then next time around it's a 40/60 split, the next time around 20/80 split. Clearly the rate of bias modification curves vary from person to person.

That, in and of itself isn't bad, nothing wrong with always picking gambling when you have some free time and money.

With addiction, of any kind, it kind of creeps past the point of free time and money. Preferring X over sleep, work, food, whatever other things are important is where it gets pretty rough for people.

So anyway, yeah, there's an element of personal choice. When the biases get so strong, it's hard to recognize that a choice is even being made. People don't exactly choose to brush their teeth in the morning, it's just something that happens as part of the morning routine. It's technically a choice, but the bias is so strong, people rarely consider not brushing their teeth. (as a somewhat silly example)

Good thing toothpaste isn't addictive... hope the Crest folk aren't reading this. Very good point, though. I was lucky, I had several positive experiences in a short time period and could rationalize my decision to desist. I have failed repeatedly to mirror that experience with my other addictions, cigs and sex. *

* More so than just getting a lot, I was missing work, foregoing important events and losing sleep to engage with any woman who gave me permission. Aging & perpetual lack of funds cured that one for me, although it is always on my mind. I can not credit that to any personal strength.

edit:reword last sentences and fix *s

At least in India there use to be an addictive toothpaste. The toothpaste had nicotine and it was common to see people with a brush in their mouth 24x7.


This does make me wonder why there's not an AM and PM toothpaste sub category. AM toothpaste with caffeine and PM with some type of mild sedative. They could double sales

There surely is AM toothpaste: https://www.powertoothpaste.com/

I always figured toothpaste for sensitive teeth contains local sedative.

Any toothpaste with menthol (pretty much all of them) contain a local sedative, it's just not addictive

i think the difference is that gambling directly activates the dopamine centers in the brain. to the extent that they discuss this during work meetings to make them more addictive. when you center your work discussions on how to make something more addictive, you are dealing with something that can cause addiction. i guarantee you that nobody in the crest plant has ever had a discussion like this.

I almost stopped smoking, but I justified having a few at work and after work because I got to hang out with my colleagues socially, and I don't like to drink without a cigarette.

I employ the social rationalization, too. And what's a smoke break without a smoke? The secondary benefit for me is one of my early cessation attempts I knew I couldn't succeed if I drank so I quit drinking and never recommenced after I started smoking again.

That's a great documentary. I'd like to see a followup on some of the people he interviewed. Some research online will show that the "Mattress King" had lost his young son shortly before this was filmed

Could you provide a link to this? I googled for "Mattress King" and found stories ie: Reddit; but nothing about his son... thanks.

Google Allan Erlick

Wow, that's amazing for the ways the people interviewed will talk about gambling (especially the different ways that they resist Theroux's efforts to get them to talk about the expected outcome of a gambling session, think about how much money they're losing, or identify a point at which they would stop).

Just google for HN threads about sports books and daily fantasy sports.

They are nearly a continuous eye roll of outraged geeks complaining about how states like NY were an affront to freedom and liberty.

Edit: The downvotes are awesome on this topic. Folks love their crack.

It's block in my country. Does anyone have a mirror?

There's a really good book about the design of the slot machines, called Addiction by Design. It talks about the different UI and design elements that go into keeping the gambler engaged and why they keep spending more money. It's a really amazing and enlightening book to read if you're interested in learning more about the mechanics of the slot machines and the designs of the casino.


I absolutely don't understand the draw of slot machines. I watched a woman playing a smartphone version on the subway; for three stops, she just kept hitting the "spin" button and watching the results.

I admit to not knowing how they work, but do they typically have any more interaction than "pull lever, sporadically receive reward"?

Change that to opening a box of boosters. Same thing. "Open package, sporadically receive reward."

Except, you have something (of debatable value but) tangible for your efforts. In some cases, the market value is clearly greater than your inputs.

I also fondly remember booster pack draft games - very fun and the "in" price is completely worth the time spent.

Slots give you exactly nothing except an empty wallet in most cases. At least if you play poker or blackjack you can interact with other humans...

Immediately, your point comes across.


This is the 101 explanation of the science at work. It's basically a conditioned response to dopamine caused by pulling the lever. At it's most basic level, if you are gambler, you pull the lever and get a neurotransmitter reward.

See also: training my dogs. It is even referred to by some as turning training "into a slot machine". At first one rewards the dog every time they do what was asked. Later, the rewards are only sporadically given (the slot machine). You do a thing, maybe some coins or a piece of meat will come out. But the dog will continue to do what was asked even as the treats taper off. Eventually, out of habit and conditioning, the dog does what was asked without rewards being handed out. Also see also: the work of Pavlov.

The moral of the story is that if there were no profit motive on the part of the casinos, eventually gamblers could be conditioned to sit at a slot machine that has had the payout slot removed, thus explaining the woman playing "no payout" slots on her phone. I've often joked that my dogs must ask themselves sometimes, "he tells me to sit and my butt just hits the ground. Why? What's wrong with me?" One might get the same response from the woman were she able to give you an honest answer. Like my dogs, she has probably long since forgotten why she even plays slots on her phone.

The latest episode of the Tim Ferriss show is a 2 hour interview with a Susan Garrett, a dog trainer and agility competitor. As a dog owner and someone who as gone through some dog training, and also as a new parent to a human puppy, I found it quite interesting and thought you might too.


Thanks for something different for my workday listening. As an owner of two knucklehead pit bulls, and a volunteer trainer at the local shelter, I'm a sucker for more dog training porn.

The training will probably come in handy for the human pup, too. As I watched the one set of friends who would tolerate a comparison between their offspring and dogs, and how they raised their kids, they probably got tired of me pointing out, "oh, so it's just like training dogs..". :-) I wish my old man was a little more into that whole "positive training" thing.

Doing a count of the number of casino games on the iOS top grossing list, gambling for no payout is a very big business.

Gambling has never been about the money. Gambling is a drug, full stop. Its effects are slightly less pronounced when you can't withdraw your winnings, but you can certainly put money into those products.

I agree, I am not drawn to slot machines, even though I do enjoy gambling (primarily table games like craps and blackjack). The people I know who do enjoy slot machines have all had a pretty decent (>$1k) hit on one, and that has, it seems, sunk the hook into them.

I have played slots in the past when killing time in vegas (e.g. waiting for a flight), and I've always found that it's a really boring way to slowly spend $100.

I also have literally no idea wtf is going on on the screens of those things. At least with blackjack and craps, I know the odds and how the mechanics of the game actually work.

I have many favorite anecdotes from "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" (of course) but one that always sticks with me is this:

The first time I was in Las Vegas I sat down and figured out the odds for everything, and I discovered that the odds for the crap table were something like .493. If I bet a dollar, it would only cost me 1.4 cents. So I thought to myself, “Why am I so reluctant to bet? It hardly costs anything!”

So I started betting, and right away I lost five dollars in succession—one, two, three, four, five. I was supposed to be out only seven cents; instead, I was five dollars behind! I’ve never gambled since then (with my own money, that is). I’m very lucky that I started off losing.

Look at many games. Diablo is just another version of the same basic premise. Do some action repeatedly looking for a reward.

Some do. A common example are secondary "bonus" games you can trigger by getting certain combinations on the main reel.

They give the player a semblance of control over the game, but in the end the math still works out just like a regular slot.

As a Brit, before I was introduced into the world of online gambling and american-style slot machines, the only real way to actually make any money off of a UK slot machine (more commonly known over here as a fruit machine, as 99% of games use the classic array of fruits as pay symbols) was via the feature/bonus system that most of the games employ - actually landing a winning combination on the reels from pressing spin is a rarity.

No real point here, just an interesting difference between the fundamental payout systems two extremely similar yet almost overwhelmingly different types of machines use.

Also of note is that fruit machines use a 'full hopper' system of payouts, in which the machine will only give out small wins until the 'hopper' (which is really just a number set by the establishment's owner) is full, at which point the relatively big payouts start happening - again, compared to the usual system of American slot machines of "this machine will pay out 9X.X% of what's put into it". This system means that you can infact 'outplay' a fruit machine - by not playing it until you think the hopper is full (or close to it).

I've had many a cheap night out by watching punters on fruities and picking the right moment - and that look of pure defeat on the bloke's face who just abandoned the machine is priceless too (although I usually buy 'em a drink if they witness it, so as not to add insult to injury)

I recently had occasion to play a slot machine briefly to cash out some free credits and I was highly amused to find an option to have a split screen so you can watch TV while you play...

I didn't either but the article actually gave me a better understanding of it.

Seconded. There's a fascinating amount of detail about how slot machine technology has evolved for greater engagement over time.

The one time I was in a casino I accompanied a coworker who gambled to one of the low dollar casinos in Colorado. What I noticed were poor people who came with $100 and wanted--or needed--to leave with $200, and of course the business model says that very few of them did. I bought a $10 bucket of quarters out of boredom and after 10 or so minutes I had $11.25, which is an incredible annualized return but not what gamblers are looking for. I noticed people going from one machine to another--"this one is cold", "maybe this is the right one", etc. It was very sad, and I learned that low dollar gambling can be insidious when the players are poor and look to the casino for money they need. The big dollar losses may make better headlines, but the self-delusion and suffering are the same.

The difference is when you have no savings and minimum wage is $10/hr (or whatever), you can recoup a $100 loss in a couple days. I used to play poker with a woman whose husband lost decades worth of savings.

Not to minimize that person's loss, but 60% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings, and I don't assume that the people I observed only went once to the casino. Minimum wage earners tend to have nothing left over by the end of the month. My point was only that it's not the dollar magnitude of the loss that matters, it's the ability of the gambler to sustain the loss whatever the dollar amount.

Does anyone else think certain video games are the equivalent of slot machine? I'm not just talking about simple phone games, but more complex, team based pick up games as well - if you rely on a matchmaker that knows to an approximation the skill of each player, is it not randomizing ones chance to win? I live with gaming addicts and used to be one - they spend every waking hour on their pcs while not at work. It's their freedom to do whatever they want with their lives but it feels like they're wasting all the early parts of their lives away.

I played WoW 40-50 hours a week in a "ranked" raiding guild for about four years. It was the exact same sensation for me when loot would drop in new raids that I feel winning a few bucks at the casino.

I eventually quit cold turkey. I'm not sure I regret those four years, I made some great friends, many of whom I still keep in touch with, but it was no doubt an addiction, and it cost me a decent amount of "real life" advancement imo.

Depends on how you look at it. With a social game like WoW, you get back what you put into it and it depends on what you wanted to achieve.

I played quite heavily for about 2.5 years while I was still in school, in the early days of the game. Probably close to 12,000 hours. But to me, those hours were actually a great investment for following reasons: 1) When I started out, I set out to play in the best global PvE guild. After two years, I achieved that and played with them for another 6 months; and 2) two years later, I had an idea for a gaming related app that took me two months to build and eventually made me $250k. Wouldn't have had that idea without my WoW experience.

Climbing as a random player to joining a top guild showed me that you can achieve anything reasonable in life if you put your mind to it. WoW had 11 million players at the time and for a while I was considered a top 100 player in the game. In a way, it gave me a sped up view of life. And honestly, I'm grateful for that because I probably wouldn't be where I am now!

I was a WoW addict. I wouldn't say I regret those four years, I made some really great friends, lots of them I still keep in touch with, but it was definitely an addiction, and it cost me a decent amount of "real life" potential imo.

Video games have a sane money/fun ratio. If you're addicted then you might screw up your life but you won't steal from anybody to keep up your habit.

I guess what I'm asking is, where is the bar for a healthy pastime vs an addiction? Is it willingness to steal from others to keep up habits? Or is it things that are addictive enough to make one forget the rest of their lives?

Well professionals talk about abuse rather than addiction. For instance people taking opiods for chronic pain are certainly addicted but as long as they dose responsibly it doesn't matter. Basically the point at which the addiction negatively affects your life but you continue anyway is when it becomes abuse.

True - it does force one into a certain path though as you feed the beast. Just as someone taking lots of opioids is less likely to drive a car, someone playing a lot of games is likely to not spend much time in the real world.

I find it to be a happiness trap myself, it puts you in a gated world which doles out satisfaction, but you can never achieve long-lasting emotional and physical well being. When the person wakes up at 40, 50 and finds a life of little achievement from what they once dreamed, now it being too late to truly make big moves... similar to people who spend all their time functionally drinking or smoking weed. Yes, you can survive, but when your working days are over and you find you have no skills or abilities or hobbies or close relationships, what has your life been for?

I've had a parent that after a lifetime of working and providing and chilling out by having beers exit the workforce and suddenly having nothing to attach to. I fear the same for my friends.

I'm a person currently struggling to find that line as well, and what I'm currently using as a barometer is: does it affect your livelihood?

I would say that my love of alcohol and wine in particular would qualify as an addiction; but at the same time I'm able to hold down a job. My bosses are happy with my work and I do feel fulfilled with what I've accomplished at the end of the workday.

I'm sure psychologists would have a field day with me but as far as your original question I've offered my input.

Some people would add: does it affect your relationships?

LOL it's nice that you think I have relationships. I hope that answers your question.

E: to amend that, I do have a small group of close male friends but I do have trouble finding an intimate relationship, due to other (unrelated? maybe?) issues with women.

I didn't only mean romantic relationships, but family relationships and friendships. I'm sure there are plenty of non-addiction-related reasons for being single!

It's interesting about the familial relationships. My father is pretty far along the religious spectrum and I am not, however we get along just fine. Of course the alcohol is something of a taboo and there have been certain frictions in between my life choices and his (such as the drinking and piercings/tattoos) however overall the relationship is still what I'd consider stable.

I realize I might have taken this a bit too personally and lost track of the overall theme. I do agree that judging the effect of certain vices could also be judged by more than just "does it affect your livelihood".

Maybe traditional games, but not the modern free-to-play games. They exploit the same techniques casinos do to get customers to buy a lot of in-game items.

and they have the added benefit of massive analytics and tracking systems to data mine user retention and in app purchases and a/b test ideas at a scale the casinos could only dream about.

Sure, but the real currency of life is time.

Assuming it's a skill based game but you never make an attempt to get better - I see the similarities. My question is: how is that different then a sport with leagues putting players at similar skill levels - is that just gambling too since they are so close in skill the game could go either way?

Many modern games have a ladder or elo system that you can only improve though increasing your ability to win (i.e. NOT just playing). I'd argue there is at least some value in taking enjoyment from improving yourself at any task. With that said if you are stuck at the 50% winloss playing over and over again you are probably trending to gambling addiction.

"I'd argue there is at least some value in taking enjoyment from improving yourself at any task" I agree but I think the task has to be meaningful in some way. I used to play modern warfare 2 from dawn til bedtime because I wanted the 2500 headshot with the F.A.L. achievement badge. I was getting like 70 headshots/day and feeling really good about it. Then one day I realized they'll eventually take down the servers and no one will ever know how awesome I was... So I do agree it feels good to improve at something, but it's best when we improve our skill set. Like becoming a better cook, or a musician practicing their instrument. Getting headshots with the F.A.L. was fun and all, but ultimately meaningless. I think gambling falls into this category. Gambling can be fun for most people, but for some people it stops being a game and becomes something serious.

Personally, I don't gamble - I'm afraid I'd win. I have a super addictive personality and I think hitting the Jackpot on a slot machine would be the most dangerous thing ever to a guy like me.

> is it not randomizing ones chance to win?

In a way, yes. But that's not the purpose. If you play ranked games, or any games of skill really, playing a completely mismatched game is just no fun. Imagine you want to play basketball for example, but you can't choose who you're playing with - you turn up and you're with a 2yo baby against NBA pros. Or the other way around. If there's no realistic challenge people will just lose interest.

> it feels like they're wasting all the early parts of their lives away.

Do you think the same of kids going to play soccer with their friends? Why / why not?

> Do you think the same of kids going to play soccer with their friends? Why / why not?

Has to do with the social skills that you learn and practice. Gaming is an escape from the real world in a bit of a different way - all social contact is reduced and "giving up" is as easy as a keystroke. The rewards you're getting are intangible and created by a programmer to entice you to make numbers go up or get a new hat, only applicable while you're still playing the game. It can be a wonderful place for people on the low end of the social spectrum to practice working together in a safe environment but rarely have I seen people get better at overcoming social problems that require tenacity through gaming.

I think these are two different things that should be separated. Ranked games with matchmaking and hats/achievements. One can exist without the other and they pull in people for different reasons. For example most of newgrounds has achievements / hats / whatever, but no multiplayer at all. On the other hand hearthstone has ranked games but very little to do with hats (there are paid and collecting elements, but they actually affect your play - they're not useless tokens). Then there's Dota with both.

> "giving up" is as easy as a keystroke

Kids often rage-quit games and interactions in real life games. Not sure if it's that different from this point of view.

Really dota 2 has stuff that you buy with $ that affect the gameplay ?

Badly worded, can't edit now. I meant both the ranked play and the useless tokens/hats.

I read once that the noises that slot machines make, and more recently mobile games like candy crush etc are the truly addictive element.

Its like when you use a clicker to train a dog. Do the trick - hear the click - and get a treat. Eventually you don't get the treat anymore more, but that doesnt stop you doing the trick (putting another coin in the slot).

Not trying to be edgy, but it strikes me as odd that, once you remove the obvious historic legacy and economic benefits to government, problem gambling is legal in 2016, but recreational drugs are not.

since recreational drugs make gambling that much more fun, you'd think casinos would be lobbying for legalization.

The legal drug that casino's peddle is very much the best drug to extract money from patrons. Weed does not reduce inhibitions in the same way that alcohol does, the only one I can think of that would help the casino's bottom line is cocaine.

you forgot meth. 12 hours of doing the same thing over and over with no regard to loss sounds like a meth addict to me.

I don't know, I think doing acid in a casino could be very unpleasant.

It could backfire if the user could plausibly argue they were not in their right mind and that the casino acted maliciously in allowing them to rack up a big debt.

casinos give free alcohol to gamblers

I wouldn't be against a law that prevented people from gambling large amounts of money unless they could prove the money was theirs. (ETA: whew, a quadruple negative.) The IRS could provide a form that confirmed that someone reported X amount of income, and you should only be allowed to gamble X-Y for some nominal value of Y. This wouldn't be that hard to enforce (the time isn't too significant when you're dealing with large amounts of money), and I don't think there's much public interest in being able to gamble unlimited amounts of money and keep it secret from the government.

Is there some problem with the above? Is there a compelling reason this would harm civil liberties that I'm missing? It's not worse than banning gambling altogether, and should prevent most embezzling or gambling borrowed funds.

I have a huge horse in this fight, because I work for an online casino/slot machine manufacture. The following is my opinion, bl.a

I know at least one physical casino where the tax authorities are very happy looking the other way, as patrons gamble tons of dirty cash. They do look very intently on the income and track it carefully because there is a percentage fee on gambling. Presumably that is why people are allowed to gamble freely.

I can come up with a few arguments against your idea - on the balance it is sound, but what should the limit be on "nominal"?

I can go to the cinema on a weekly basis, which with ticket prices, popcorn and other concessions can be quite an expensive hobby, or I can hit the casinos a couple times a year where I could spend the same amount of money - it is all entertainment and who is to say one is better for me than the other?

I don't know any country that has a limit on how much alcohol you can buy at a time (most have age restrictions, some have time and place restrictions, some won't sell you if you are already drunk), yet there are alcoholics in any place. Should we ban or limit alcohol to some nominal amount? If not, why should we treat gambling differently?

That said, I am all about making it easy for people to see how much they have spent, and of course be honest upfront.

> Should we ban or limit alcohol to some nominal amount? If not, why should we treat gambling differently?

No, because nobody steals $4 million to buy alcohol. Alcoholics don't tend to be spending anywhere near the numbers in OP.

Even if nominal was 0, the proposal would still prevent stealing or borrowed money being gambled. It's not an essential part of the proposal.

If tax authorities are overlooking theft being gambled because they get a cut, then incentives have not been lined up properly. Theft causes a negative externality greater than the thief's gain, so society should not want theft, and if it does then there's a problem.

However some alcoholics spend so much time getting drunk/being drunk they can't do their jobs and so end up on the street.

I don't object that nobody should gamble on stolen or borrowed money (though some hedge funds may disagree), but that is different from having some nominal limit. For one how about savings? How about retired people with too much time and large pensions? How about saving up for a honeymoon in vegas?

What about the alcoholic who drinks himself half to death and ends up on life support with no insurance? The kind that literally cost hundreds of thousands in medical expenses to keep alive for another day.

> I have a huge horse in this fight

I love this mixed analogy.

> I don't know any country that has a limit on how much alcohol you can buy at a time (most have age restrictions, some have time and place restrictions, some won't sell you if you are already drunk),

Similar, but different, the UK does restrict the amount of non-prescription pain killers you can buy. I once tried to buy five packets of Nurofen (Ibuprofen) from a supermarket and was restricted to just two packets. I simply went to the next supermarket up the road and bought two more packets.

If there was a limit on how much alcohol people could buy at one time, wouldn't they just do the same thing?

The U.K. really restricts ibuprofen this way? In the U.S. I think these restrictions have been applied only to methamphetamine precursors (pseudoephedrine and maybe others), while opiates have been made prescription-only.

OTC analgesics are a common suicide (attempt) method. It's just suicide prevention.


And in the US you have to present your ID for pseudoephedrine which is presumably getting linked to some database to prevent you from walking down the street to get two more boxes there.

Why would tax authorities be happy to capture the tax on a few percent of illicit earnings rather than be able to take down a big RICO evader?

As it was explained to me it was a relatively simple way to recapture some additional tax funds. Also this wasn't the US, Denmark do prosecute criminals, but we don't have anything like RICO.

By RICO I just meant "big cases involving major criminal enterprises". (And I should have said "a big tax evader under RICO" rather than imply that they were evading RICO itself...)

RICO statutes sound like a great legal tool.

They have been abused. They need to be amended.

We picture they are being used to go after Mob types.

They use them whenever they can.

How do I know? I almost got into trouble giving my parents a bit over $10,000 cash years ago.

A bank teller turned me into the IRS. Bank employees can be awarded money for turning in any amount of money "they feel" might be suspect. It doesn't even have to be over $10,000. Yes--a bank teller. Anyone in that bank.

Got a call from the IRS. They mentioned I could get my parents in trouble. They stated this is a "curtesy call", but it scared the chit out of me.

They mentioned the RICO statues--in a joking way. I went to the library to look up RICO statutes. Yea, this is hilarious?

I sold a car--I restored, and gave my mom money she could use.

Never in a million years, did I think she could get in legal trouble. I still remember paying a useless lawyer $500 at 5 a.m. to basically say, "give me a ten thousand dollar retainer." I said, "but what have I don't illegailly?" He paused. "Well nothing?" I walked out of his office, thinking this is a weird system. I still get his lousy Christmas cards.

Yes--this stuff happens all the time.

I feel like there is more to this. Can't you just show them the bill of sale?

This is a common reply to any complaint about an authority. "I feel like there is more to this" is not a very charitable interpretation of a claim, and is basically invoking the just world fallacy. I don't know anything about the OP's case, but in general ignoring the negative experiences of others is kind of what resulted in both the BLM movement and Trump's election. As a society, we really need to work on taking people seriously when they say something is wrong.

I didn't end on that point though. I am seeking clarification. If the answer is "I don't have a bill of sale, I said I sold it for $500 bucks to get around paying taxes on it" then this story seems a little more reasonable. If you accept all complaints about a individual or institution as gospel Donald Trump and Bill Clinton are both serial rapist pedophiles and Hillary Clinton is a reptile creature from the 19th moon of Zlarg.

Well, the SEC [kind of] already does this with accredited investors :)

The other casino, where market participants pay for the gamblers' losses AND gains.

Can you be accredited based on embezzled or borrowed money? Will it bring attention that will uncover it?

It's self accreditation, the party taking the investment gives the investor a questionnaire, and then says ok looks good to me.

What happens when I show up from overseas to gamble? How do I prove I am from overseas and not just someone that isn't bringing their IRS form?

Passport? I guess this would be hard to regulate, but even if foreigners were excluded from the regulation my proposal would still help some people.

Great article. I have a Internet addiction and this is eerily similar.

Like slot machines that pump random awards and chance into slot user, I feel the surge of social approval and dopamine rush too when I get a Reddit upvote, a Facebook Like, IG comment, Tumblr reblog etc.

Also like how gambling addicts get into a "zombie flow-state" when they're one with the machine, I feel the same way scrolling through pages after pages of Hacker News/Reddit/NYTimes/ESPN/YouTube popular channels. The thrill is gone, but the mechanics of pulling the slots pulley is embedded in my brain, watching one more YouTube video of a political pundit railing about the election, one more reaction video about a Internet meme, sometimes even re-watching video's like re-watching music lyrics video to relive the laughter, that feeling - and only in the middle of the video wondering how I got there, like sometimes driving to a destination other than your work office but your brain goes on autopilot and takes the other turn to your office; and you don't realize it until you're there.

Also like how casino's are a very anonymous and comforting place to addicts, I feel very safe and comfortable in hanging out with like-minded individuals on online forums whom I only know a vague outline of, but whose weariness and anonymity like mine are just as addicted and plugged into the zombie human-machine interface; I feel intuned and comfortable with. Like the anti-social meme's ("Ez game, Ez lyfe") on online games, alt-right memes on some Subreddits (Pepe memes, Trump is a racist) and IT memes on HN (for Elon Musk's new Tesla model, against Holmes' Theranos, for Peter Thiel's Fellowship, against Peter Thiel's endorsements, employees vs. funders), I commiserate with the anger and rage; and the identification of these online communities, just to feel like I am a part of something and also to direct my emotions to have some kind of drama & risk in my otherwise sterile electronic life; sometimes I feel I feel simultaneous the negative emotions and positive identifications on both sides of the argument.

I guess at least my addiction isn't too bad given I'm only losing on my account balance of time and attention although that feeling of coming out of a six hours bender on the net trying to find the perfect co-working space in my city, debating through all the Yelp/CityData threads for the pro's and con's, feels eerily like coming out a casino sliding doors to bright sunlight at 8AM after a 18hr binge at the blackjack table; somehow in the back of your mind, you already accepted that you'll be economically bankrupt in exchange for a chase for an emotional high - almost a spiritual transcendence, but somehow you wound up just feeling morally bankrupt.

You are not alone. I feel the same way every now and then. The most obvious sign is when I catch myself typing the URL of the website I just opened right there again at the top.

And then I go through my habits and get better internet hygiene. One such thing that helped was setting time limits or when I switched for instance to using Google Reader.

Unfortunately google killed it, so I was lost for a while.

Another trick that worked for a bit was using Calibre to dump websites/articles (from RSS feeds) into a daily .epub for my Kindle. Browsing the web on an offline device is really nice, as it removes the impulse for clicking on links.

I did the IFTTT daily digest dump to my e-reader, but ended up filling up the memory too quickly.

I've been using Google Newsstand recently, and it seems to work well in providing new content without sucking you down a rabbit hole. It would be nice to be able to add your own RSS feeds like reader though.

Can you explain how you set that up?

Calibre has a job/scheduler system, I can't give you the rundown because that was some time ago.

However the documentation seems rather complete:


Basically you can set up some automated feeds and then each day when launching Calibre you'll get an ebook with the result of those feed. Which can then automatically be uploaded on your ebook reader.

I think I did some customization to get a HN feed onto that system. These feeds are programmed as python scripts so it is rather accessible

I'm a recovering gambling addict (since 22 June 1998), but what you described is why I shuttered my Facebook account. I had recognised for a while that the behaviour was compulsive and unhealthy but I still was self-justifying as to why I needed it. As of last Sunday evening I'm FB-free and the world hasn't caved in. I've also given up on Slashdot for similar reasons (I accept that I am powerless over other people's opinions). I'm of an age where my friends will still respond to communication via other means (e.g. the telephone as a device for real-time, synchronous, two-way verbal exchange).

If anyone is unsure whether they have a problem that could be described as an addiction, just google "addiction 20 questions" and apply what you find to your own behaviour. Bottom line, if your behaviour is compulsive even in the face of intellectual awareness that it is being done to the detriment of self or others, where weak rationalisations are used to self-justify excess indulgence in <substance/behaviour>, then you could fairly describe it as an addiction to <substance/behaviour>.

If you want to watch something to spook you out of your 'social media' approval ratings, watch this:


It's an episode of the Series 'Black Mirror'. Well worth the watch.

Players become so absorbed in the machines that they leave young children unattended, wet themselves without noticing, and neglect to eat for hours.

Sounds like video games. (Disclosure: I'm developing a multiplayer game, precisely because I feel the underlying similarities to resort casinos in multiplayer games insult my intelligence.)

Well, I doubt you'll make as much money as WoW, but you might make a lot more money per player-hour.

Some of my happiest games spending has been for 'unjustifiably' short games, where no one ever makes me grind to the point of frustration, and I can just see some great content. The winners in my Steam library range from KSP to <10 hour exploration experiences.

And then there's WoW. Which apparently passed 6 million man-hours played sometime back in 2011...

That's six million man-years, no?

Oh good god, so it is. I think my brain tried to reduce the headline to something a bit less extreme...

Almost all videogame players are not like that.

"and lost all of a $110,000 personal loan he’d taken out from PNC Bank."

The man had no job, maxed out credit card, and a bank gave him a loan of 110k? Am I crazy to think this is insane on the bank's behalf?

My guess is that he took an equity loan on the house. Based on their website, PNC looks to be like most other banks as far as business model and services offered, so a plain ol' home equity line of credit makes the most sense.

He might also have been running off his past credit score. He was making 6-figures for decades, spending heavily on presumably his credit card, and always paid his bills. If the bank doesn't see the embezzled funds he was spending (and why would they when the funds belonged to the company), he probably looked like a great credit risk: a high-flying executive with a long sterling history who would no doubt get another great job after a few months of negotiation and had plenty of assets.

Depends on if they can sell the loan to someone else. PNC Bank may have actually made money from the deal.

Another consideration is the person making the loan at PNC can be better off even if PNC is worse off.

He may have lied to the bank about his income and credit history. Addicts tend to do that kind of thing. Before 2008, it was trivially easy to get away with it.

I'm guessing the bank doesn't keep the loan, they pass on the shit to get polished, repackaged, and resold.

No. Any bank with sane procedures would never approve such a thing.

Definitions of sanity aside, whether or not its a "good" idea is a matter of perspective. The 2008 financial crises showed how a lot of money can be made with no real repercussions approving loans, so probably looked like a very good idea to those who profited. Same with the S&L crisis in the 80s and 90s.

I worked at a bank before, throughout and after the 2008 financial crisis. That bank wouldn't have dared to give a broke and jobless person a loan, not a penny. Unless there are good reasons to assume it can be paid back, like securities in the form of a house or shares.

I know of banks that wouldn't have approved loans like that, either. However, some banks did, and made money doing so. Many banks don't keep the loans they approve on their own books.

Many banks don't keep the loans they approve on their own books.

That is dirty, dirty business. Giving out loans that will never be paid back, bundling them up and selling an opaque package full of risks. They said that was a big part of what started the crisis. I'm glad I wasn't part of that.

Yup. I completely agree. And there were a lot of steps in the chain. As I understand it, it wasn't the issuing banks that were doing the bundling: they just sold the loans to other financial service companies. Given the amount of money and the fact that a lot of them effectively got away with it, from their point of view it was good business.

This is an example of situations where I see arguments along the lines of "it was legal, so it wasn't wrong". Grr...

Can you share more of your experiences working in the banking industry?

Sure, what do you want to know? My time at the bank was brief (I like tech more) but I got at least some insight.

I have zero sympathy for gambling addicts. They voluntarily choose to enter into unfavorable financial transactions (i.e. make -EV bets). As long as the casino's encouragements don't step over the line from aggressive marketing into fraud or coercion.

Yes, they exploit human psychology to convince people to spend money, potentially large amounts of money, unwisely on something they don't actually need. That's the purpose of the entire field of marketing, from advertising jingles on the radio in the 1930's to the sexy elf girl on the Everquest box in the 1990's to the reward point cards popping up at every store in the 2010's.

Yes, it's shitty, slimy, exploitative and more than a little creepy. I personally hate marketing, and in fact I've met very few people that enjoy being targeted by it. But the fact of the matter is, as long as you have large societies of people talking to each other, businesses will be built on speaking to customers and convincing them to part with their money for some product of very questionable value. If you legalize, you can regulate and tax, so that the games are relatively clean and fair, and enforcement of disputes is handled relatively non-violently through the legal system. Otherwise, you'll just drive it underground.

> They voluntarily choose to enter into unfavorable financial transactions (i.e. make -EV bets).

No. They are uneducated and they need help. They are not making rational decisions as described, they are navigating by their feelings.

I helped provide social welfare for people like this in a side gig. One woman was just the _nicest_ you could ever meet; she helped everyone. But when she stepped into a casino, something in her subconscious told her that the universe was finally going to reward her goodness.

I still try to stay in touch with her daughter, who graduated from high school as a homeless kid.

The family was terribly affected. But I still sympathize with the mom. She didn't voluntarily choose this problem. It doesn't even take sophisticated software to manipulate her. People continue to help her move forward, though, and she can change and is mostly OK these days.

> That's the purpose of the entire field of marketing

I disagree; that's simply black and white thinking. If you hear "let's sell people something" and think, "oh, they want to exploit somebody," that's not how it actually works; it's just your perception. Do _some_ people and organizations work in an exploitative way? Sure. Do they all? No. I just don't believe that putting out the guy with the sandwich board equates with manipulation, or that any manipulation is all of the same degree.

The HN audience converges with the audience that absolutely despises marketing; this is due to their preferred cognitive toolset which is very analytical and uncomfortable with the power of emotion. Others have different toolsets. They see marketing as a way to get people on both ends of a deal good outcomes in a mostly-good world.

> I personally hate marketing

I wouldn't trust that; marketing is just a reflection of human cognitive functions which are probably not a preferred part of your personal approach to life. A huge segment of society sees it as a way to move forward productively, even though it does carry risk like anything else.

>That's the purpose of the entire field of marketing,

But then you went on to describe advertising.

Explain how the entire field of manufacturing is not to "create things people don't need"? Can you think of any counter examples?

What if someone markets or advertises this item?

Like, https://www.epipen.com/

Here's an interesting academic paper that explains in detail the "virtual reel", "near miss" and other techniques that slot machines use to boost their appeal: http://stoppredatorygambling.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/...

And here's the patent that kicked it all off: US4448419, also known as the "Telnaes patent" for its inventor.


The original intent of the design was to allow for larger payouts without the need to increase the size of the machine.

I see a lot of parallels between gambling and video games, specifically in how video game reward mechanisms resemble gambling with the way the brain responds to intense situations and risk/reward scenarios—simply put, you can get quite a rush from either, and there's an entire industry built up around both to profit from this.

I'd love to see a thorough comparison between these two. I think there's a lot of room to explore similarity in stigmas around addiction and indulgence in these pastimes, how people justify it, and the addiction mechanisms at play. Maybe there's even an exploration of healthy gambling habits that mirror healthy entertainment habits? I'd love to read about this stuff.

Jonathan Blow has a great presentation on the mechanisms of video game addiction and the role of the game designer in building ethically responsible games [0]. I highly recommend it to anybody who's interested in exploring this line of thinking.

[0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqFu5O-oPmU

I'd love to see a thorough comparison between these two.

Oh, I think you'd find parallels with a lot of things beyond just games and gambling. I say that because I've recently recognized in myself a few of those parallels. Take the mandolin that I've taken up in the last couple of years (having played other stringed instruments for decades). Though not a formal study or anything, I see the same kinds of feelings when I nail a difficult riff as I do when I finally beat that final boss in BioShockingGrandAutoDuty. The difference is that it might take a few years before one gets to that "nail the riff" state on an instrument, whereas a slot machine and CallOfBattleHalo have very low bars.

I can even see some addictive qualities (for my personality, at least). When I've got a tune that I've been working on rattling around in my head, I find that there are times that I have a...compulsion?...to get my fingers on a fretboard and try a different approach or a different fingering. Hard to describe, but it very much parallels what it's like when I've got a new game and am itching to get home and play it.

The difference is, of course, that few people complain when you've gotten really damned good on that instrument and I imagine very few people have lost their house because they play their mandolin too much (though some might lose their house because they thought music was a viable career). So we probably just don't give it much thought beyond those behaviors that are easily demonstrated to be destructive.

Casinos profit in many ways, but some of them include:

- Even if a game is played sticking to optimal strategy, odds are in favor of the house. Through game rules, and/or house rules.

- Many players are tourists that do not know how to play optimally. Those subdize players that win, and leave a margin overall.

- They encourage drinking by offering alcohol for free to make people less inhibited, less risk averse and diminish their ability to play to the best of their ability.

- There are cognitive biases that create the perception of a higher probability of winning: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gambler%27s_fallacy

- Players do not use currency directly, but chips. Chips have a more playful connotation than currency, and create a level of indirection that subconsciously distracts people from the fact they are dealing with money.

Then, some personality traits and mental health conditions can contribute to less risk aversion and other aspects that lead to unreasonable gambling.

> Or was he the victim—as the suit alleged—of a system carefully calibrated to prey upon his weakness, one that robbed him of his money, his hope, and ultimately his life

Isn't this all businesses in a capitalist system? Try to get as money as you can from people legally.

Can you expand on your statement? Some questions come to mind:

- Is capitalism in and of itself good?

- Are humans purely rational beings? Should they be treated as such?

- Does legality imply ethics? If it's legal does that mean it's good?

- Laws change. Does that mean that ethics change at the same time as laws?

- If people want to create laws and regulations that prevent them from making common mistakes at the expense of pure freedom, is that okay?

There's limited information in your comment, so please don't take these questions as an assumption on my part of what you believe.

Of course you're right. The quoted statement is part of a broader attack on self-responsibility that is taking place in the western world. We all are poor poor beings who bear no responsibilities for our flaws. Bad at school? It's a mental disorder. Gambling addiction? It's a bug in the brain. Everybody else is responsible for one's woes. This way of thinking is incredibly toxic and prevents human flourishing. To blame other people for your faults is to deny yourself the opportunity for betterment. And I say that as someone who doesn't necessarily believe in free will.

> This way of thinking is incredibly toxic and prevents human flourishing. To blame other people for your faults is to deny yourself the opportunity for betterment.

This is a non-sequitur. Someone taking a stance against gambling doesn't mean they are problem gamblers.

> Bad at school? It's a mental disorder.

It goes without saying that not everyone who is bad at school has a mental disorder, but having a mental disorder can obviously have an adverse effect on performance at school.

If you google for "Correlation between mental disorders and school marks" you can find some studies that seem to indicate that there is a correlation[0].

> Gambling addiction? It's a bug in the brain. Everybody else is responsible for one's woes

What else would you call it? It has a negative expected value yet I've meet otherwise very smart people who gamble far more than they can afford desperate to make money. Doesn't remove responsibility, but why should we as a society be expected to accommodate businesses that hurt individuals?

[0] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042814...

Probably because I am very fortunate; but I have never done anything but lose from Vegas games to the Lottery and poker with friends.

Based on that - I think an open informational model would go a long way.

I imagine this would be a history or graphing of win vs. loss and dollar amounts or similar statistics for the customer/gambler.

It could be provided on say a slip of paper, presented each time the customer goes to the cage or buys chips at the tables.

The customer could even refuse the paper if they 'wanted to bury their head in the sand'.

Interesting idea. They tried that with smoking and it only had moderate success. I wonder if it would be any better with gambling.

"Your most likely outcome at this table is to lose 20 cents for every 10 dollars you play". Or "If you play $100 at this table you will most likely leave with $98". The problem is you'd need to find a way that actually sounds bad.

Same here, I know guys who go out and buy lottery tickets all the time. I've only ever lost so I have 0 interest.

Our state voted to fund programs for veterans, seniors and the disabled from taxes collected via expanded (online and other) gambling a few years ago. Luckily, we voted against a public referendum to expand the number of casinos in the state this election; most likely because nobody wants one in their backyard.

Still, the government funding its expenditures via regressive and actively harmful methods always rubbed me the wrong way.

Here is my proposal to eliminate problem gambling forever: scrap all laws restricting gambling. I know this might sound surprising (ok possibly crazy) but hear me on...

Today it is extremely expensive to open a casino. I'm not sure what the laws for offline casino are, but license costs for a new online casino are 100s of 1000s to millions USD per year. Subsequently there are very few companies that compete in this space -> there is artificially limited supply -> the price for gambling is high. The price for gambling is the players average loss per bet (called the house edge). It varies from a few % to over 10% for most casino games. It's what makes the gambler loose in the long run.

Say online gambling were legal in the US. There would be way way more online casinos competing for the player. This competition would drive down the house edge to either very close to or actually 0. A 0% house edge would do away with problem gambling. Gambling addicts make 1000s of bets per day, and the law of big numbers dictates that they would not loose money over the long run. This does not even factor in that online casinos would be VC funded, and would not need to make a profit for a long time, which would drive down the price even further.

This isn't just a lofty libertarian theory. The bitcoin gambling market is largely deregulated and the house edge in bitcoin casinos is way lower (1% - 0.1%) than for regulated casinos. Recall that regulated casinos have to somehow pay huge licensing costs to the state, that's money that their players have to loose.

Long story short, it is my conviction that online gambling laws are what make gambling addicts loose money (and much more, see article). Do away with the regulation and the market forces will lead to a state where gambling addicts do not loose any more money.

(full disclosure: I run a bitcoin casino)

Are gambling addicts limited by time or by money? If they're limited by money then reducing the house edge just means they'll play more before going bust.

True. However reducing the house edge to 0 would mean that they can play until infinity without loosing money on average.

But then who would bother running a casino? You can maybe approach zero, but not achieve it.

Edit: also, I'm not sure if that's quite true. The possibility of going bust introduces an asymmetry that makes your long term expected value lower.

It will never happen, since the state wants its cut.

Also, why open a Casino? That's expensive. It's much cheaper to run your own daily numbers game. The old street level games were popular because the "policy kings" apparently took less than the state does in legal lotteries.

I've worked at 3 gaming manufacturers including implementing the payout table. Near misses were never coded into the design. If they did occur, they were consequences of the way the reels were physically laid out. That choice was made from an excel sheet that outlines how many types of each award were expected. The primary statistics the mathematicians cared about were volatility (std deviation) and hold percentage. I can almost guarantee that no modern manufacturers have coded logic that says "If a loss was chosen, re-arrange the loss to appear close to a winning combination". There is no need to do that.

Also, virtual reel maps allow you to have wins over 10,000 units. That enables choice, some people might want to play a large-award machine. There is no deceit there. If the award says "8 million dollars", you know that winning symbol does not have a 1/22 chance of coming up. I have played megabucks, a progressive slot with a $10mm award, for a couple hours. I believe I got one winning megabucks symbol on the first reel, perhaps 4-6 times. That seems in line with its rough expected probability. No deceit. If the first symbol, and (!!) the second symbol came up with their true 1/22 probability, but conveniently the third symbol always missed, it might fool some people initially. But the people who play these machines often would figure it out and their gambler's superstition would kick in. They'd say "those machines are rigged, I've gotten 2/3 winning symbols hundreds of times but I never get the third. I wont play them anymore."

For anyone who is outright against all gambling, its important to remember that you will never shut it down. If you make it illegal, people will go online, or the mafia will have their "numbers" game, people will bet on sports through bookies, etc. The shadier the source, the dirtier it gets. I've heard of casinos in south america that had "inaugural wins", where they'd rig the machine to pay them the first time they sit down in order to hook them. That is sick.

The first reform I'd like to see is the $1200 tax limit increased. Thats an unfair tax on everyone, addict or not. It should be raised to account for the cost of living and inflation. I don't think it's been changed in at least the last 15 years.

Second, I think the optimal solution here is to legislate some sort of "gambler's bankruptcy", where someone surrenders their assets to a court, which then puts them on a forced budget and severely impedes their ability to gamble. That way it could perhaps prevent them from being homeless, sued, etc.

Third, I think that if you embezzle or otherwise use stolen funds to gamble that should absolutely be recoverable by the victim. If I buy stolen property, the court has no problem seizing that from me and returning it to its rightful owner. If the casinos sell entertainment and receive stolen funds, they absolutely should suffer the consequences just like an ordinary citizen. If they see a "whale" coming in and extend all these benefits to them, it should be their onus to verify that person's income.

Examples of a near miss that are indeed part of the design:

- third wheel spins that change visuals/audio to enhance anticipation of landing that last needed symbol

- symbols that look very close to eachother

- symbols that appear to be stopping then move at the last moment

- bonus wheels with false probabilities, or fake-out stops at high value slices

- pre-determined picking on features

Do you think there is a difference between a probabilistic near-miss - say, being dealt 4/5 cards to a royal - and a machine that already decided you lost and in attempt to tempt you, grabs 4/5 to a royal and shows them to you knowing full well you wont win ?

Not to the user. The internals are a black box, and what's presented is taken at face value. But

In poker the user might expect the presentation to be based on probability (52 choose 5) and the 2nd example would result in more near misses than expected, exploiting the effect of a near miss. In slots there's not really such an expectation rooted in probability beyond what the machine presents on screen

> Third, I think that if you embezzle or otherwise use stolen funds to gamble that should absolutely be recoverable by the victim. If I buy stolen property, the court has no problem seizing that from me and returning it to its rightful owner.

This is a nice idea, but it's not a workable system for money. For one, because money is fungible, you can't actually track who has it. If someone steals $1 million from an employer, and also drains all his personal assets (total $1 million), gambling a total of $2m at five different casinos over the course of several months, who do you claw the money back from? Who got the stolen money? How could any casino reasonable have figured anything out here, since he could easily have proved he had $1m in assets prior to the gambling?

I think it's safe to make the casino pay 100% of the amount embezzled if it can be shown that the embezzlement was done to enable a gaming addiction. The amounts can usually be tracked, because any serious gambler is going to use a club card. The amount of free play, food, hotel rooms, travel, plus tax deductions, make it a given that a problem gambler would always use a card. That covers the "five different casinos" case. As far as commingling personal assets with embezzled, that's not how it works. Addicts don't resort to serious crimes until their personal assets are wiped out. So they should leave a pretty clear paper trail of money stolen ---> money given to casino.

If you are interesting in learning more about some of the art of creating addiciting products, I'd recommend Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products[0]. Great book that lays out some of the foundations in an easy to understand way. It is specifically designed for the tech scene and has lots of relevent examples of how most of the programs we use daily either intentionally (or unintentionally) designed to be addictive.

[0] https://www.amazon.ca/Hooked-How-Build-Habit-Forming-Product...

Good read, but the article title is borderline tautological. Makes it seem like the article could read "By existing." Given the damning content, they could have fairly switched "Enable" to "Methodically Exploit".

Arcade games use a lot of the same strategies including using virtual currency swipe cards to hide the real cost of each play (and so you always have a positive balance causing you to put a little more on the card to try using it all).

Figure out how to repurpose this technology to make web sites and apps "sticky", and profit.

To see some of this technology in action, try "freeslots.com". This site has simulated reel-type slot machines, done quite well. The site has been around for years, but it's now HTML5 instead of Java-based. The payout ratio for the different machines varies; some have a positive payout ratio. If you get a modest number of credits, you can sign up for their "sweepstakes". It seems to be a tool to find new gambling addicts.

Oh god, I just realized I've been sitting here clicking a virtual spin button for the last couple hours. Thanks :\

Those wondering, this one has a very nice payout rate: http://www.freeslots.com/Slot6.htm

An article, for anyone that has missed it: http://www.theverge.com/2015/5/6/8544303/casino-slot-machine...

Relates casinos to World of Warcraft, mobile gaming, and everything else that uses similar feedback mechanisms.

> I'm a person currently struggling to find that line as well

Im a big fan of sportsbetting but can see how it can get out of control pretty quickly. I was betting on sports which I wouldn't even usually watch. My mate sent me a link to "gamblr.io" which we all use as group now. Keeps everyone accountable for total spend etc.

I highly recommend reading Matthew Crawford's The World Beyond Your Head. He spends a chapter examining how the casino industry games gamblers and addicts, and the sad effects that has on people.

#1 rule when talking to gamblers:

They only talk about when they win.

I feel like the best thing that can happen to anyone is to lose a few bucks their first time at a casino.

Hasn't the addictive properties of gambling been baked into the model of businesses offering it since the concept emerged?

The article addresses this question. Roughly half way down. Also the current top comment in this thread also directly addresses that.

Casinos enable gambling Addicts in the same way that legalized weed enables drug addicts.

I've read that the way gambling engages the dopaminergic system in gambling addicts is more akin to physical addictions like alcohol, tobacco, or opiates. So maybe a better analogy would be "in the same way freely available opiates would enable drug addicts".

There often seems to be a sentiment of "Why congratulate a recovering alcoholic? I've never had a drinking problem so why isn't someone congratulating me." from those who have never experienced or been close to someone who is experiencing a never ending addictive loop. Generally this attitude comes from arrogance, inexperience, and youth.

The vast majority of opiates, substituted amphetamines, and cocaine were available OTC for a myriad of ailments. Many Vietnam veterans were treated in hospitals with heroin, yet they didn't become addicted.

What it boils down to is that the addict is unable to achieve homeostasis with their environment. Unfulfilling relationships (both romantic and platonic), financial burdens, lack of a job, lack of intimacy all contribute to addictive behavior.

It's easy to blame a particular molecule for ruining someone's life. It's less easy to blame a system that turns men into machines.

There are genetic factors at play that make some more vulnerable than others.



I can confirm this anecdotally. In my family tree, just considering my parents, biological uncles/aunts and first-cousins - out of a total population of 19, our family has had 8 distinct individuals who were either alcoholic, drug addicted or compulsive gamblers, for a total of 8 out of 19. I am one of those (in recovery since 1998).

I can now recognise the telltale behavioural signs that may indicate tendency to compulsive/addictive behaviour. I'd love to see a cheap genetic test for addictiveness made available.

There was a study of addicted vietnam vets where they compared the addiction rate after returning home (a major environmental change)

And I believe the vast majority stopped using, so environment has some reinforcing aspect to addiction.

> It's easy to blame a particular molecule for ruining someone's life. It's less easy to blame a system that turns men into machines.

maybe it's not the "system" but the success of the system that is to blame ? All the homeless, impoverished, 3rd-world people dont have time to get addicted to things because they're trying to eat! I almost want to agree with you that its the unnatural constraints that capitalism puts us under. But at the end of the day, we as Westerners generally have money to buy dope/gamble/drink etc. The only place that money comes from is our collective prosperity. I say it's our collective prosperity that enables us to gorge ourselves on whatever vices we prefer. Look at how many celebrities implode because they have the money to buy whatever pleasure-substances they want.

Many third world countries have similar substance problems.

Maybe, although I do believe that tons of good science has chimed in on the role of dopamine in the human brain. Give a smoker some chantix without alleviating their financial burdens or changing "the system" in any way and watch how long it takes them to want nothing to do with cigarettes. There is a complex biological process at work here that plenty of smart people spend their entire lives trying to understand.

Substituting one drug for another to treat a psychological or behavioral deficiency has been a popular prescription for a long time, and reciditivism has prevailed in a majority of cases, upwards of 90 percentile in alcohol and opiate abusers. JGI if you need sources, though those numbers are actively obfuscated to serve the practitioners, pharmas & lawmakers' self-interests; my knowledge comes from shared 1st hand experiences of acquaintances in ER, behavioral sciences & addiction treatment center personnel over the last 30 years.

edit: spell checker changed psychological to something u related & I added how long I've known these people.

Sorry I'm not a mental health professional or a physician and had to google "reciditivism" which appears to be a reversion into criminal behavior which is maybe a fancy word for relapse I guess. You are saying that medicine used to treat psychological or behavior deficiencies is of little or no value? Don't you think the shared knowledge of acquaintances is kind of anecdotal? If we are using anecdotes then I would add that I used chantix to quit smoking years ago and never looked back. It flicked an instance switch in my brain that gave me enough distance from that negative behavioral feedback loop to quit for good. Then I quit chantix and never took either again. For me it was (probably literally) a life saver.

I didn'y say pharmaceuticals are of little or no value, I said recidivist rates for alcohol & opium addiction are upwards of 90%. If a chemical imbalance causes harmful behaviors, then yes, pharmacology can be a lifesaver. My experience is admittedly anecdotal and should not be taken any other way. People who deal with addicts regularly(doctors, LEOs, therapists and family members) will have their own anecdotes, and together they form a pattern which, IMO, is swapping one drug for another isn't the panacea drug makers and their lobbyists would have us believe. There was a long discussion about an Asian weed the DEA made schdule 1 recently despite it not meeting any of the criteria. It is the opinion of many professionals that it IS a good instance of swapping one drug for another in opiate addicts, much like Chantix worked for your nic habit.

Good for you on quitting the cigs. If I may inquire, how long did you take it? Did it work the 1st time? Any disturbing imagery or dreams? I am genuinely curious, as I am a nicotine junky myself.

Ahh gotcha. Yes alcohol and opium are tough to keep people away from. Chantix worked the first time and within just a day or two made smoking a cigarette completely devoid of any pleasure. Zero problems with dreams.

The biggest epiphany you get from quitting smoking is realizing that cigarettes aren't inherently pleasurable, smoking one just removes the symptoms from nicotine withdrawal in a way that other nicotine replacements can't. While everyone seems conceptually know this, it's surprisingly hard to really get it to sink into your own brain. Truly understanding/believing that combined to a round of Chantix took care of things for good.

Awesome. I would very much like to quit and will give that a go. It's not the quitting I dread, it's the deep, perilous dread I feel when withdrawl begins, only an hour or two after the last. I know rationally I can do it, I go 6-8 hours a night nic-free while sleeping and am not jonesing when I wake up.

If chantix doesn't work for you my grandma used bupropion to quit. It was a wonder drug for her.

Obviously talk to your doctor.

> Many Vietnam veterans were treated in hospitals with heroin, yet they didn't become addicted.

And many did, I assume. Were there studies that unequivocally showed that the non-addicted had good jobs, stable relationships, and a purpose in life, etc? There are lots of stories of successful college students, etc., who start dabbling in drugs and spiral down despite having all their ducks lined up in a row.

It seems to me that it's just as likely down to genetics. Some people are predisposed to addiction to certain things, and some aren't.

As a dumb anecdote, I smoked briefly after college because my girlfriend did. When I stopped dating her, I stopped smoking. I tend to think that I'm probably not predisposed to nicotine addiction.

Legal weed dealers cannot yet issue a special type of credit at their discretion, for which they can employ the DA as a collection agency

I don't think that's a fair analogy at all. Care to expand on it?

He probably would care to, but how much time would you care to spend listening to anecdotal bro science today?

I was down voted to -3, so why should I expand anything? I should have know that the HN crowd loves its drugs and will not listen to facts and reason.

Well, for one, you chose a non-addictive drug, so that was a pretty silly move.

But I know, it was easier to feel that you were a rebel fighting conventional wisdom than if you had said "cocaine" instead of weed.

If you look around the threads here, dismissive once sentence replies are usually downvoted. You have to actually put "facts and reason" in your comment for us to listen to it.

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