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Saturday 8 June T he first thing you notice on entering the vast hall of the casino is the sound: It all percolates and pulsates in a gently propulsive fashion, as if to convey a sense of progress even as it relaxes. Which is not so far off the mark. In her book Addiction By Design: To generate the sounds, the director sampled existing casino soundscapes, fusing the whole to, as he put it, "add a new and better track to the traditional sound, but not to clash with it".

She didn't need academic research to gauge this latter trend.

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Driving down Rockaway Boulevard, past pawn shops, I enter the casino driveway, ascend the multistorey car park and a few short steps later am on the floor. This is where "flow" begins. The space is rather like a city, with gridded blocks of machines occasionally opening into wide, circular "plazas", in the centre of which are slot machines ringed around columns.

In these spaces, the ceilings are slightly recessed, mirroring a circular pattern in the rug. Resorts World is, in essence, a locals' casino.

And while there's a Sex And The City slot machine, there are more rolling walkers than Manolos in view among the crowd, which tilts older — and, this being Queens, Asian. But it's not one hand of poker I'm playing — it's Some machines go up to The slot machine, the historical antecedent for which came from nearby Brooklyn in the 19th century, is a curious device.

As a Nevada regulator notes in Addiction By Design, it is the only "game in Nevada where the player doesn't know what his odds are". For most of its life, they were small beer; low-stakes blandishments for little old ladies, something you plugged a quarter into while you waited for your flight home from Vegas.

Sociologists didn't think much of them, either. The games themselves were undergoing an evolutionary change. Once upon a time, you stood at a slot machine, putting whatever change you had into it, cranking the lever and watching the wheels spin. If you won, you'd wait for the clanging of the change in the hopper. If you won big, you'd have to wait for a casino attendant to come by and record it.

There was a discrete rhythm, with any number of chances for a natural pause — like walking away from the machine when you ran out of coins.

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The lever was dispensed with though it still exists on some machines as a "legacy lever". Stools were added, then increasingly ergonomic chairs. Reels went from mechanical control to electromechanical control in the s to digital control in the s to, eventually, reels that were no longer physical objects at all, but algorithmically driven video projections. As the inventor of the technology noted in his US patent application: The goal is to entice them to play close to "extinction", the rather unfortunate industry term for a player who's gone broke.

To further the actuarial vibe, frequent players are assigned a "predicted lifetime value" by the casino modellers, a phrase that reminds us that in the gaming industry, the "product" is the person sitting at the machine. There are five reels, which of course are not really reels, and no "legacy lever".


Winning is not merely a matter of lining up a few sets of cherries; rather, as laid out by a tangled diagram resembling the London tube map, there seem to be an infinite array of ways to win — the so-called "Australian model" of machine gambling. As my money is accepted, a husky female voice intones: As they come to a stop, a rising crescendo of sound alerts me that I have won — though it takes me a minute to realise where, amid all the permutations.

As a representative of Bally, the gaming company, observed: Flow, the theory goes, requires a number of preconditions: As one describes it, with a kind of Sartrean resignation, "With the machines, there really is no chance.

Because you know you're going to lose. Back in Queens, I glance at a potbellied man, half sprawled in a cushioned swivel chair, absently pawing at a slot machine, and am reminded of historian Sigfried Giedion's observation that "posture reflects the inner nature of a period". In the middle of the cluster of tables sits an actual roulette wheel, under a glass bubble. Please choose your username under which you would like all your comments to show up.

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