Should Gamblers Bear Responsibility for their Habits?

"Friends in Casino on a slot machine; all obviously are winning" by Kzenon / Shutterstock

The morning the trouble began—years before anyone realized there was trouble in the first place—Angie Bachmann was sitting at home, staring at the television, so bored that she was giving serious thought to reorganizing the silverware drawer. Her kids were in school. Her husband worked all the time. Bachmann had gotten married young and had become pregnant almost right away. She had never held down a meaningful job.

At the time, Bachmann had no idea that - someday - she would become one of the most prominent test cases of whether people should bear responsibility for their habits. Bachmann, in fact, would become a defining example of how neurological discoveries in the science of habit formation are challenging our concepts of right and wrong.

That morning, all she knew was that she was really, really bored.

So at about noon, Bachmann put on some makeup and a nice dress and drove to a riverboat casino about twenty minutes away from her house. She made her way to a blackjack table where a dealer patiently explained the rules. When her forty dollars of chips were gone, she glanced at her watch and saw two hours had flown by. That night at dinner, for the first time in a month, she had something to talk about besides outguessing a contestant on The Price Is Right.

After that first trip to the casino, Bachmann started going to the riverboat once a week. Then twice a week. Within six months, she had picked up enough tricks that she could play for two- or three-hours and still have cash in her pocket when she walked away. One afternoon, she sat down at the blackjack table with $80 in her purse and left with $530—enough to buy groceries, pay the phone bill, and put a bit in the rainy day fund.

Over the next decade, Bachmann played regularly. She had never had any problems with drinking or drugs or overeating. She was a normal mom. So the compulsion she felt when she walked into a casino caught her completely off guard. She went whenever she fought with her husband or felt unappreciated by her kids or was just bored. At the tables she was numb and excited, all at once. The high of winning was so immediate. The pain of losing passed so fast. Her gambling, neurologists would later conclude, had essentially become a habit.

All habits, I learned while writing my book, Habit, have a similar structure: First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode. Then there is the routine - the behavior itself - which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular behavior is worth remembering for the future.

For Bachmann, once her gambling became a habit, the cue was almost any emotional upheaval or boredom. The routine was to hit the casino, and the reward was that sense of excited numbness:

When Bachmann's parents died, they left her almost a million dollars. By then, her playing was out of control. She was gambling every day. And soon, she had lost all the money she had inherited. As well as the proceeds from the secret mortgage on her house. She had even signed promissory notes to the casino for $125,000. And when she couldn't pay, the casino sued her, asking for what she owed plus $375,000 in penalties.

Which is when Bachmann's lawyer unveiled his defense. His client's habits, he claimed in a countersuit, had been preyed upon by the casino. They had offered her credit, free suites, and booze, and had taken advantage of her nearly subconscious patterns. She had no control over her behaviors because they occurred automatically.

And there's scientific reasons, it turns out, for why that might be true.

In 2010, a cognitive neuroscientist named Reza Habib asked twenty-two people to lie inside an MRI and watch a slot machine spin around and around.

Half of the participants were “pathological gamblers”—people who had lied to their families about their gambling, missed work to gamble, or had bounced checks at a casino—while the other half were people who gambled socially but didn’t exhibit any problematic behaviors. Everyone was told to watch wheels of lucky 7s, apples, and gold bars spin across a video screen. The slot machine was programmed to deliver three outcomes: a win, a loss, and a “near miss,” in which the slots almost matched up but, at the last moment, failed to align. None of the participants won or lost any money. All they had to do was watch the screen as the MRI recorded their neurological activity.

“We were particularly interested in looking at the brain systems involved in habits and addictions,” Habib told me. “What was really interesting were the near misses. To pathological gamblers, near misses looked like wins. Their brains reacted almost the same way. But to a nonpathological gambler, a near miss was like a loss. People without a gambling problem were better at recognizing that a near miss means you still lose.”

Two groups saw the exact same event, but from a neurological perspective, they viewed it differently. People with gambling problems got a mental high from the near misses—which, Habib hypothesizes, is probably why they gamble for so much longer than everyone else: because the near miss triggers those habits that prompt them to put down another bet.

The non-problem gamblers, when they saw a near miss, got a dose of apprehension that triggered a different habit, the one that says I should quit before it gets worse.

This helps explain why Angie Bachmann lost control every time she walked into a casino. Gaming companies are well aware of this tendency, which is why in the past decades, slot machines have been reprogrammed to deliver a more constant supply of near wins and casinos redesigned to trigger gambling habits. That's an aspect of the argument that Bachmann's attorney made as her case went all the way to the state Supreme Court. Once the offers from the casino started rolling in, he told judges, once she walked into the casino, her habits took over and it was impossible for her to control her behavior. And so she should bear no responsibility for the outcomes.

The court didn't buy it.

“There is no common law duty obligating a casino operator to refrain from attempting to entice or contact gamblers that it knows or should know are compulsive gamblers,” the court wrote. Bachmann, they decreed, was liable for all her debts.

Which resolves the legal question. But it doesn't really answer a deeper, more urgent query: is this fair?

Habits are not as simple as they appear. In my book, The Power of Habit, I argue that habits are rooted in our neurology. Once a habit is ingrained in our neurochemistry, it never really disappears.

But, by the same token, habits aren't destiny. We can choose our habits, once we know how. However, to modify a habit, you must decide to change it. You must consciously accept the hard work of identifying the cues and rewards that drive the habits’ routines, and find alternatives. You must know you have control and be self-conscious enough to use it.

And so Bachmann, by this logic, probably does deserve to be culpable for her losses. Because she was aware of her habits, and once you know a habit exists, you have the responsibility to change it. If she had tried a bit harder, perhaps she could have reined them in. Others have done so, even in the face of greater temptations.

In fact, Bachmann herself seemed to recognize this. After spending significant time discussing her case, Bachmann broke off communication with me, and refused to confirm details on her history or case—even those available in court records. (The name 'Angie Bachmann,' in fact, is a pseudonym, because without the ability to conduct a final fact check, I felt it was unfair to use her real name.) But in one of our interviews, Bachmann explained that she always, at some level, felt like she would finally win it all back.

“This desperation starts once you realize how much you’ve lost, and then you feel like you can’t stop because you’ve got to win it back,” she told me. “Sometimes I’d start feeling jumpy, like I couldn’t think straight, and I’d know that if I pretended I might take another trip soon, it would calm me down. Then they would call and I’d say yes because it was so easy to give in. I really believed I might win it back. I’d won before. If you couldn’t win, then gambling wouldn’t be legal, right?”

On Bachmann's last night of gambling, she said, she hit a hot streak at about six in the morning. Her piles of chips began to grow. A crowd gathered. She did a quick mentally tally: if she kept playing smart, she would come out on top, and then quit for good.

Then the dealer hit 21. Then he hit it again. A few hands later, he hit it a third time. By ten in the morning, all her chips were gone. Bachmann left the table dazed and walked to her suite. It felt like the floor was shaking. When she got to the room, her husband was waiting for her.

“It’s all gone,” she told him.

“What do you mean?” he said.

“The money is gone,” she said. “All of it.”

She had lost everything, she explained. She didn't even really know where it had gone. It felt like all the dollars had disappeared almost automatically.

Excerpted with permission from The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Illustrations by Anton Ioukhnovets.


  1. The language we use frames habits in a specific way which determines the direction of investigation.  “Having a habit” implies that a person “possesses” a habit which in turn implies control over it.

    What if we try different framing: “The habits have you.” or, “Used by your habits.”

    Now, we can look at one’s body and psyche as an ecosystem where one’s will coexists with the impulses of these (and many other) patterns, each trying to use the organism for its own purposes. 

    Thus, when we experience “internal struggle,” we are referring to the events taking place on the battlefield of our being, with the forces of the currently activated patterns as the warring entities.

    Just a thought to try out and investigate for yourself.

    1. This sounds like a way of lying to yourself about what is going on. Alienating your habits as if they were a thing separate from you could be the start of a slippery slope where you tell yourself it is not you. Yes, language is very powerful as such it is dangerous to convince yourself that these things are using or having you and not part of you. 

      1.  After reading Consciousness Explained, the idea that memes have a life of their own, ie that they’re like self-sustaining organisms in the ecosystems of a brain and culture at large, makes perfect sense.

        Are you entirely responsible for  the malware running on your computer?

        Sounds pretty unfair to me.

        1. I was not speaking of memes. I was concerned that separating a habit/problem from you is a way of avoiding responsibility. My Fundamentalist Christian Mom did this. She gave her temper to Jesus and no longer had to worry about it as she beat the crap out of me on a regular basis. She used very powerful language while doing so. I think it is possible, for some who believe, to  be successful with something like smoking to pretend it is not you. I am not able to pretend any such thing. 

          As you brought up memes: I think memes act like living things because they pass through our living brains. They travel through the internet and culture because we push them. If no one or no machine picks them up they disappear. I do not believe they exist independent of our brains. 

          1. My son is considering doing consciousness studies with an eye to working on the subject of memes. I am interested and he is because he was raised in an atmosphere of intellectual fun. 

      2. Are you speaking from experience, or just guessing? I’d like, respectfully, to disagree with what you wrote.

        Treating a problem as separate from oneself can be very useful, speaking from my own experience, and also from the writings of therapists from Adelaide’s Dulwich Centre. They use this technique, which they call ‘externalising conversations’, all the time. (They have a motto: ‘The person is not the problem. The problem is the problem.’) More info here:

        One advantage of treating a problem as separate from oneself is that you can start to take a position on it, and question whether its interests are the same as your own. Habits can fool you into thinking their interests are your interests, but they might not be.

        It’s how I quit smoking. One of the tricks of my smoking habit was to encourage me to see not-smoking as denying myself pleasure. 
        Once I saw the smoking habit as not-me, I could separate out what was in the interests of the habit (i.e., me smoking forever, whatever the cost to my health, wallet, and happiness), and what was in my own interests (not smoking). I could study the habit’s tactics to keep hold of my life, and develop counter-tactics of my own to edge it out.

        It’s perfectly possible to take responsibility for dealing with a problem without seeing it as somehow internal to oneself. You may find that internalising problems works well for you; if so, that’s great. But it’s not the only responsible way of dealing with problems.

        1. Thank you for your response and explanation. I was, of course, speaking from my experience and understanding. I have used language to manipulate myself and in teaching college and high school. I can see how it can work for some.  When I decided to quit smoking for the 5th and last time I just quit and for some reason it took. No gum, no meds. I did the same with drinking many years before.  I had tried all kinds of things over the years.

           I did some Gestalt Therapy years ago where you talk to your problems or people who hurt you. I was unable to take it seriously. To me it was very artificial.  I was not able to suspend disbelief. On the other hand, I am interested in how language is used in propaganda; which is why I consider it potentially dangerous. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is also language based, in re framing how you view your problems. All it did was annoy me but the therapist was likely just not good at it.  I have done almost every kind of therapy there is for multiple mental health disorders. I’d be in a very serious place if I pretended that Major Depression was not me. No therapy of any kind has been helpful for being sick and some of them are detrimental. I am not everyone and there are many different ways to approach a problem; which is fortunate given how many ways people can be different. :) 

  2. Here in Ontario, according to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) corporation, there has been a marked decrease in casino use, lottery ticket sales and scratch-off ticket sales in several key demographics. The OLG has responded with major advertising campaigns across the province, in neighbouring provinces and nearby US states. 

    But they have acknowledged it isn’t working and that this is cause for concern, especially worrying is that young people, particularly 18-35, are gambling (gaming according to the OLG) less and less. 

    To circumvent this disaster and to reinvigorate their flagging profits, the OLG is supposedly “revamping” more than just it’s advertising.

    They intend to open several more casinos to offset the recent decline in US gambling tourism once enjoyed. The claim is that this will win back that market. A dubious claim, since they blame new border requirements and a strong Canadian dollar as major causes of decline. Especially important is opening a casino in Toronto, where they are supported by the popular  mayor Rob Ford and his brother, Doug. Surveys have shown that Torontonians do not want a casino, the OLG dismisses this as nimbyism, that the detrimental effects of casinos on surrounding locale are exaggerated, and that they will put more money into their problem gambling prevention program.

    The OLG has promised to make lottery tickets and scratch-off tickets available in myriad more locations than they are currently. At this time you can buy them at any corner store, special lottery stores in malls and near food courts, grocery stores and other stores, gas stations… okay, let’s face it, they are everywhere.

    The changes are how they are sold in some locations, particularly grocery stores and big box stores. Currently they are sold at a customer care counter or a special counter and gamblers must queue up there after buying their groceries, or before. The OLG states that consumers don’t do this as often as they would if it were more convenient. 

    So the OLG will now make lottery tickets available at all POP in these locations, that’s right, the checkout lines. To help consumers make the right choice, and to offset their loss of foreign tourist markets by attracting more Ontarians get into the habit by equating the sale of these products to grocery and other necessities. 

    But let me come to the point. 

    I will kick you in your ass once for every ticket you buy while I wait behind you buying my groceries. Maybe you can’t resist the OLG machinations to help you become a gambler. If that’s true, you better buy them someplace else cause I ain’t waiting for you at the grocery the way I must at the corner store.

      1. LoL, I’m not a government corporation intent on eroding social cohesion or, more importantly, getting in your way. 

        That’s two stones I can throw with impunity.

        1. Good posts. I’ve never liked the idea of “sin taxes” – I think taxes should be higher; sins less expensive – and the OLG’s attempts to get more kids gambling is weird and bad and flawed.

          I think they might be overlooking the fact that the younger generations aren’t exactly wallowing in disposable income – rents are high, tuition is high, wages are low. If we’re going to spend on vice, sex and drugs are obvious priorities.

          And if you’re stuck living with your parents, they will look at you funny when you start scratching lotto tickets at the dinner table.

    1. Also in Ontario we have the  “charity casino”, which means that some of its revenues go to the Trillium Fund. Trillium supports charities, non-profit and sports organizations.  Ironically, the charities supported include centres  and programs for the treatment of addictions ( including gambling) and a number of programs for economically disadvantaged children.

    2. I never really got the point of gambling.  As a kid in the 80s I could drop a quarter in an arcade game and play for half an hour.  Once I was old enough to gamble, I saw video games as a way to get similar neurological rewards for a much more tightly constrained cost.  Granted, there’s no dream of riches, but I was never so deluded.

      Gambling may be failing to attract the younger (18-35) demographic chiefly because of competition from video games, which the younger set grew up with.

      1. Heh, didn’t read your reply till after I made mine.

        My mates pumped endless coin into arcade machines when I was a youngster, but I always saw it as a waste of money when I could play on a computer for nothing.

        Granted, home computers in the 80s were a bit of a way from arcade standard, but you can’t play an arcade machine in your jocks, or when you’re broke.

    3. Ha, my old man loses his shit about having to queue behind gamblers at the newsagent. I get annoyed by waiting for all those people who pay with plastic instead of cash, but I digress.

      …especially worrying is that young people, particularly 18-35, are gambling (gaming according to the OLG) less and less.

      Pff, gambling=gaming, those disingenuous sophist motherfuckers. I’m tipping the 18-35s are actually gaming, on five year old computers with pirated software, because they’re broke, and (hopefully) smarter than their elders.

      1. If they were interested in self-made gambling, they could have that much more cheaply by using with some coins or dice or a set of card. 

        Gambling quite sensibly refers to games of chance – one of the alledgedly rare cases  where German doesn’t have a specific word but makes with a compound: Glücksspiel – Luck-Game.

        Most computer games – except computerised games of chance – rely much more on the users’ skills, not luck. There may be an element of chance, so a replay isn’t too boring, but that’s it.

      2. being smarter has, sometimes, an inverse correlation to self-destructive behavior.  other times it has no correlation to avoiding bad habits or addiction…

  3. “… Gaming companies are well aware of this tendency, which is why in the past decades, slot machines have been reprogrammed to deliver a more constant supply of near wins and casinos redesigned to trigger gambling habits.”

    I’ve seen this a lot on lottery scratch offs. You can pretty much tell if a card is going to lose just by looking at the way the field of “Your Numbers”* or “Winning Numbers”* seem to dance around a number that’s not quite there.

    *Basically the larger set of numbers on a scratch-off, the name varies depending on how the game is designed to appeal to the player.

    1.  You should read ‘A Ghost in the Machine’.  It’s an overview of all the stuff can go wrong with your brain, and how it can affect your behaviour.
      The essay is written to address the mind-body problem and existence of the soul, and all the attendant issues: free will, personality, etc.

  4. “There is no common law duty obligating a casino operator to refrain from attempting to entice or contact gamblers that it knows or should know are compulsive gamblers,”

    Fair enough, but then casinos should also give up their right to eject gamblers who win too much, including card-counters. 

    1. The two classes of people are entirely unrelated, and casinos’ obligations with respect to each are similarly unrelated. Casinos should behave responsibly, and not exploit known compulsive gamblers. But you can’t legislate that sort of thing.

      1. You can’t? Why not?

        (That’s an actual question, I’m not being a smartass. I’m French, so I don’t know much about US gambling legislation.)

      2. True they are unrelated.  I don’t care.  I think casinos are greedy bastards, and if they are allowed to prey on a human weakness, even apparently promote this weakness by offering ridiculous amounts of credit to known problem gamblers, then they should not have the right to discriminate against someone who actually wins more money than they think is acceptable.   We can legislate against discrimination with regard to race, why not here?  People go to casinos with the intention of winning money, and when they win too much to frequently casinos regularly kick them out.  How is that fair?

        1. There’s a huge difference. The compulsive gambler wants to be there, and the casino wants them there. The card counter wants to be there, but the casino doesn’t want them there.

          Basically, you’re saying that they should be forced to make a transaction both parties don’t agree to (let the counter stay), and they should be forbidden from making a transaction that both parties do agree to (kick out the compulsive gambler).

          That’s just crazy and authoritarian, and no amount of sleaziness changes that.

          1. Woahhh, slow down, I never said anything about kicking out the compulsive gambler.  Let them lose their shirts, as much as it depresses me.  Such is life.

            I’m just saying “fair is fair”– and no casino loses money.  The odds for every game are stacked in the casino’s favor.   So we’re talking about a situation where someone who is talented at math is not allowed to play blackjack because it’s not in the casino’s economic interests.  I know of situations where winners weren’t even card counters and were taken aside and questioned as if they were criminals.  It reminds me of some kid saying “if you’re not gonna play my way I’m taking my ball and going home.”

  5. Casinos are filled with depressed, unhealthy, unkempt people.  I visited a friend in Vegas, and we went out to play the penny slots and it was these depressed, unhealthy, unkempt people.  I had a family vacation in Tahoe last year and we went to one of the buffets at Harvey’s, and the casino we had to walk through was nassssssshtay… those same downtrodden people there.  And I also met some people for dinner at a good place at an Indian casino in California.  Nice casino, by far the cleanest.  Redfeather in Jackson in the foothills?  Is that was it was?  Nice place. But it was the SAMMMMMME PEOPLE!  WTF?

    1. Penny slots? Indian casino? Not that you need my advice, but there are a wider range of folks at the craps table in some of the better Vegas casinos. But it’ll take more than a Big Gulp of pennies to buy in.

      1. The Indian casino was a hell of a lot nicer than any of the best ones in Vegas.

        The people at the penny slots in Vegas weren’t the depressed ones – they were the younger crowd like us, drinking the free drinks. The depressed ones were at the slots and video poker things all around us.

  6. Casinos only allow adults to play and adults should be held responsible for their own decisions.  Period.  Gamblers aren’t being defrauded.  They know that there’s a risk of losing their money.  If we were to start holding casinos responsible for the choices of people who don’t manage their money well, shouldn’t the same principle be extended to retail stores, restaurants, credit card companies, pretty much every for-profit company?

    If I were to buy so many pairs of shoes that I racked up a huge debt I couldn’t afford, it wouldn’t be the shoe store’s fault.  They did nothing wrong in displaying them in ways that are attractive to consumers or catering to my fashion tastes or promoting themselves and working to keep me shopping at that shoe store.  It isn’t their responsibility to know my financial situation or my history or what I’m predisposed to.   It’s their business to sell shoes.  And it’s my own business to decide if I can or can’t afford them and to deal with the consequences if I chose unwisely. 

    1.  If the shoe store started comping drinks and offering exorbitant lines of credit to customers who had obviously been buying too many shoes, yes, I would hold them responsible.

    2. However, the credit company allowing you to take loans that they full well know you won’t be able to pay back, and preying on your craving for shoes in order to make money out of it (because, since you don’t have a choice of creditors, they can impose a massive interest rate) is responsible, at least partly, especially if that shoe thing is kind of an addictive problem and not just that you like shoes.

      You don’t just “rack up a huge debt” all by yourself. To rack up a huge debt, you need a huge loan. It doesn’t come from thin air.

  7. They may actually not be totally responsible for their actions (doesn’t that get into the problem of consciousness?), but they are responsible for the consequences of their actions whether it’s fair or not. Hence, as the article says, at the moment they are aware of those consequences they are responsible for developing strategies to deal with the habit.

    1. While they may recognize they have a problem, they also might not be able to understand what tools they need to alleviate the problem. They could always go to Gamblers Anonymous, but I think there is a Social Stigma there, that can be a hindrance. Albeit the Stigma is much better to deal with than being flat broke and in debt up to your eyeballs. I think once we can recognize that this is an issue, and that people are being preyed upon by an industry, maybe there can be a system of tools developed to help these poor souls. The key I think is that they realize the trap and want to seek the tools to escape. Personal responsibility is always the lynch pin though. Can we fault an industry for exploiting a habit? Can we absolve a person for being self destructive? This is a rather big can of worms, and where do we eventually draw the line? If Gamblers can be excused for their excesses, then what other demographic gets their “get out of jail free card.” A person is ultimately their own Warden, to the cell they build for themselves. There will always be “Enablers” Vice is part of the human condition. You cannot enjoy the fruits of success, without the bitter taste of failure. Unfortunately this is a circle jerk life’s experiences. I guess it just goes to show that gambling and other bad habit, are hardwired into the human species. Remember it was one brave soul that took the gamble and climbed out of the primordial ooze, to start the ball rolling towards Humanity. I guess you could say that Gambling is hardwired into our psyche (as it were.) or I could just be full of crap… My wife tends to believe that. :-)

      1. All of the things people get addicted to are “hardwired” somehow. People get addicted to foods and bad eating habits, for instance, but we all still have to eat to survive while also recognizing that there is more to it than that. I don’t know if I would call it “vice” though because I think that the purity or good/bad dichotomy is part of what keeps people trapped in these little ruts (or big ruts).

      2. How do you know it was just one? Maybe that ‘brave soul’ was just one of the million brave souls that took a one-in-a-million chance?

  8. Those who pander to addictions should all be held equally accountable. If the casino’s strategies are judged legal, then so should be the pusher’s and madam’s. If a drug dealer is indicted because he/she is “preying on the vulnerable”, then so should the casino. If a bartender is arrested because he/she served a drink to a person who was already drunk, then dealers at casinos should be held liable in the same way.

    Either we consistently act as though *all* adults are responsible for *all* their actions or we don’t.

    1. Totally.  I see no reason to pick and choose.  Why do some people want to protect some people from themselves?  We should be protected from each other from things like murder and rape and theft.  But why interfere with anyone making unhealthy choices for themselves? 

      1. the article touched on exactly why we should interfere.  because some people can’t help it even if they try. 
        inherently most of us pity those people (don’t be fooled, we ALL have a specific detrimental addiction, some are just lucky to not find it).  so perhaps we could help those people by preventing the most aggregious attempts to exploit them.
        but the even bigger problem is that we ALL pay for this by the lost productivity of the persons involved (and their friends and relatives), and paying for their rehabilitation and/or increased healthcare burden.

        1. But to interfere, you will need to use violence, unless the person is willing to change their own behavior voluntarily.  How is adding violence to force an addict out of an addictive situation an improvement?  

          Coercion is less costly and more rewarding than personal responsibility? I think not.

          If you bail people out of their problems, what will motivate them to avoid repeating the same mistakes?  Sometimes, the solution must come from within the individual responsible for the behavior.

          I am reminded of an old Stabbing Westward lyric: 
          I can not save you. 
          I can’t even save myself.  
          So just Save Yourself.

          1. you evidently didn’t read my comment, or didn’t understand it. 
            i said “[prevent the problem]” to begin with.  not bail people out.
            let’s learn from our mistakes as a culture and move forward.  that could include increased *gasp* legislation of the subsidized gambling industry.

            for the time being we all have to take responsibility for our actions, even when exploited (for the most part).

  9. “then so should be the pusher’s and madam’s.’

    Well, assuming a madam or a pimp aren’t using slave labor.  Because that’s actually a separate issue that you’ve glossed there with, you know, people and stuff.

    But really, why do we approach these things through the criminal system either? I don’t really see much justification or evidence that it’s doing people any good, frankly.

    1. Having drugs and prostitution illegal is what results in pushers, pimps, and madams doing bad things such as keeping sex workers in slave-like situations.

      If these things were legal, there surely would still be some problems (just as there are workplace law violations in every other industry) but not anywhere near the same level of depravity as exists now.

      That doesn’t really have any bearing on these people being scumbags… they probably would be whether it was legal or not. And it doesn’t have any bearing on whether or not they’re responsible for trying to make people addicted to their wares, so yeah, I’m off topic :)

      But just as certain amounts of regulation are undoubtedly a good thing for casinos and the like, it would do a ton of good for currently criminal industries like drugs and prostitution.

  10. I will just say this… I had the same problem. I was hooked on Poker Machines. We had them here in SC, for years, until they were eventually outlawed. I had the same behavior problems, and the same patterns of habit. I won a lot of money on them, and I lost a lot of money on them.I won 14 thousand in one night of playing, and lost 2 thousand in a night of playing. All in all I maybe broke even, through the whole time. I had several fights with my Wife, because I’d stop by the local Gas Station and play all night, instead of coming home. I even did that one night during a blizzard, back around 2001. I’d go to a parlor and play during lunch, and get caught up in a streak, be it a losing one, or winning, and wind up way past work time. I’d make up some excuse, flat tire, engine trouble, family emergency, you name it… I used it! My saving grace was they finally outlawed the machines. That was enough to help me break the habit. Convenience was the enabler. The Machines went underground, but I didn’t spend the effort to find a place to play. I got lucky and realized I had a problem, and used the outlawing as the final tool to break the cycle. I like Poker, and I like to watch matches but that is enough for me now. I know where the line is located. It was hard to see that line back then, when I was caught up in the play. I have other bad habits, I smoke a Pipe, I like chocolate chip cookies, and I am a Net Junkie, but I hope to never have that particular Gambling Monkey on my back, ever again.

    I can totally see where a person could go out of control, and lose everything. It is a wicked Task Master to be under. The Close-Win is the real Kicker. Hitting a Royal Flush with a 100 to one payout, is a real sweet feeling, when you’ve bet 50 bucks, but watching that final card be off suit is enough to drive you insane.

    1. So, even your recovery was a result of lady luck?  Sounds more like remission, than recovery, but at least you seem happier with your life than before.  Good luck in the future ;)

  11. The title of the post doesn’t do the subject justice. Do gambler’s *share* responsibility for the consequences of their habits? Take a look at what the financial sector is doing to the economy and tell me it’s a personal problem.

    Thing is, much of this economy is based on addictive behavior. It may take a crash before we can get better.

  12. Maybe the casino should be responsible for their habit of loaning out money to people it knows (from intimate experience) aren’t engaged in worthwhile monetary pursuits.

    1. Excellent point.  Both parties participated in risky behaviors, and neither should be bailed out from the consequences of their decisions, lest it reinforce  the repetition of the risky behavior.

  13. tl:dr – Yes. We are all responsible for our own habits, but there should be guidelines which  dictate how something can be marketed to us. It happens with tobacco products (in sensible countries) and it should happen with gambling too.

    Humans are suckers and it is possible to market some of us to our own deaths or ruin. People are not taught how to interpret and identify how and when we are being manipulated. We either need to fix that (very difficult) or regulate marketing (much easier).

    1. Worse, people are schooled to be EASILY manipulated… how else will they submit so peacefully to be taxed for a third (or more) of their labors, and to send their sons off to fight wars of aggression for the interests of the political elite?

      1. while i agree that we aren’t taught enough to avoid manipulation (advertising is another area of impact), that isn’t the only facet of how people fall prey to these basal instincts. 
        some are just more susceptible, due to addictions, or other factors, no matter how well educated or how “smart” they are.

  14. The author completely left out “intermittent reinforcement” which is a big reason why gambling is so addicting and hard to break

  15. I agree with what was posted earlier;

    That if a Casino is not to bear the responsibility for compulsive gamblers it should then have NO right to refuse service to people who gamble and WIN as long as they do it legitimately.

    Make this an Either/Or condition, casinos will then start blacklisting the “Soccer mom bankrupting her family” because the winnings of such misery could be quickly more than overtaken by the “Asian card counters”.  Mind you that gambling is largely no longer a “Mob” thing but rather a “Businessman” thing, and most of the Gangsters that sold the casinos to retire were amazed at how crooked, greedy and with utter contempt for mankind the businessmen were.

  16. you know, as someone who has struggled with a heroin addiction, I can relate.  You know how bad it is, and then you get your ‘reward’, and then the control-flow-graph of  behavior continues. What makes gamblers (or addicts) STOP the negative behavior? People say its hitting some bottom, but shouldn’t there be a way to intervene? And I’m not talking about trading heroin for methadone, but somehow force the ‘addict’ into an out of body experience where they SEE the real behavior, and somehow then desire to change. Although admittedly when dealing with drugs you have to deal with physical and physiological issues, but so stands my question…..

  17. No, people got brains and they know they have a problem.
    If they don’t want to deal with it it’s their own problem.

  18. If the gambler’s habit could be dismissed, why not the casino’s habit of profiting from such behavior?

    It is behavior, after all, that we are really dealing with, not the motivating habit.  The woman took risks in gambling, and so did the Casino, when it gave her credit and other perks.  When she won, they paid off.

    IMHO, neither should be bailed out or shielded from the negative effects of their actions.  It is a sad situation, but an injustice such as undoing the results of a freely-agreed upon transaction will not improve it.  Without the negative consequences of such actions to indicate that our behavior is risky, we would increasingly overindulge in risky behaviors.

    This article provides an excellent parallel for the TARP/bankster bailouts of 2008-present.  If you bailout the biggest losers at the involuntary expense of the small ones, you are enbling the failure to be repeated, and possibly in greater degree, since such a bailout establishes that the biggest losers’ riskiest risks will not result in losses for themselves, so they take more big risks.

    1. point well taken.  the article doesn’t really address what is meant by “responsibility”.  In one way, it could mean the actual debt, financial, as well as to society.  In another way it could mean whom is “responsible” to prevent the situation (if we believe it should be prevented).

      some believe the most harmful portions of the situation should be prevented, due to the overall ill to society by enabling businesses (and persons) to take advantage of human nature at the detriment to both the individual as well as society at large (cost to society in lost productivity and health-care costs).

      sorry for the run-on sentence…

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