Gambling is bad for the economy, bad for the individual, and bad for the society at large. Various groups of concerned citizens have been trying to make this point in various ways over the past years as greater and greater numbers of state legislatures have turned to raising revenues through state-run or approved casinos and lotteries.
In the fight against gambling, just about the entire gamut of strategies has been employed: from calling in major scholars and research specialists to conduct studies on the short- and long-term effects of gambling to concerned citizen groups gathering to write letters to the editor. Recently, however, a small grassroots movement has sprung up in Lynden, WA with a novel way to fight the growth of casinos in their hometown and across the nation.
On February 13, 2008 a group of approximately 30 Freedom Players entered the Northwood Casino in Lynden, WA, sat down at as many slot machines, placed their money in the machine and . . . pulled out magazines, unwound balls of yarn and knitting needles, and struck up conversations with the people on either side of them. A new spin on an old technique, the Freedom Players effectively filibustered the Northwood Casino for 90 minutes until the local sheriff department peacefully escorted them off the casino property.
While inside the casino, the activists attempted to find out more information about the slot machines before pressing the Play button. They were concerned with their odds of winning, the sort of virtual reel mapping controlling the slots, and the various techniques used by the casino management and game producers to manipulate the users into gambling to “the point of extinction,” a cynical euphemism for going broke. The point of the exercise was to highlight the disreputable modes of gaming employed by the gambling industry while also attempting to raise awareness of the negative effects gambling has on society.
Slot machines are designed to maximize profit, which means luring players to spend immoderate amounts of money playing their game. Strategies prey upon the imbalanced and undisciplined spending habits of many citizens (often the less-educated and poorer members of any given locale), and are most effective when they condition people towards gambling-addictions.
Members of the Freedom Players first gathered in opposition to a proposed casino being built in their community and, though the casino was eventually built, have continued to fight the state-sanctioned gambling practice and hope to bring attention to what they term “exploitative gambling.” While perhaps still leagues from making the national splash they hoped for, the strategy of the Freedom Players to fight this insidious social ill is ingenious.
By taking on the more easily condemned practice of conditioning, manipulation, and fraud incorporated into many video slot machines, the Freedom Players are able to avoid the usual litany of charges of being moralistic, kill-joys, and rigid fundamentalists usually raised against anti-casino activists. However, an examination of the specific practices of game manufacturers and casino managers will inevitably bring attention to the general issue of gambling and the questionable practice of filling state treasuries with lottery- and casino-funded dollars.
The Freedom Players’ publicist is also attempting to make use of the “new media” (so often touted and scrutinized here at MereO) by creating video documentary and publishing it on YouTube. While the Democratic Party may have won considerable ground for hosting the first-ever internet presidential debates, it seems that more conservative groups are not allergic to marketing common-sense and, given enough time and effort, may stand a chance to bring regional and national attention to a practice that has epidemic-sized ramifications for the health and well-being of our society.