The ostensible attraction of the amendment is its promise to relieve budget woes without new taxes. In proponents’ eyes, state income from gambling is a form of voluntary tax payment. But modern casino revenue comes mostly from slot machines, and the relationship between them and some of their patrons is voluntary in only the most superficial sense. “Addiction by Design” (Princeton University Press, 2012), Natasha Dow Schüll’s gripping account of slot machine gambling in Las Vegas, looks into the technical wizardry underlying modern slots and their effects on players. According to slot designers and casino managers surveyed in the book, the mission of these machines is simple: to separate patrons from their money in the most ruthlessly efficient — yet psychologically agreeable — ways possible.
The machines create an experience so compelling that some people stop playing only when they’ve exhausted every available resource. Ms. Schüll, a cultural anthropologist on the M.I.T. faculty, interviews a slots player who sees the machines as so immersive that winning becomes a distraction, something that matters only because it lets her play a little longer. “It’s like being in the eye of a storm,” the woman says, later adding, “You aren’t really there — you’re with the machine and that’s all you’re with.