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Psychiatrist Explains How Slot Players Are 'Praying to the God of Chance'

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In the book "Slots: Praying to the God of Chance," released this month, author Dr. David Forrest, clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, explains why millions of people play slots machines, although few actually expect to win.

While many gamblers who play table games with strategy and decisions impugn slot fans, Forrest defends their intelligence. "They aren't dumb," Forrest says in a phone interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "They tend to be thinking people who read a lot."

But, they expect to lose money. So what attracts them?

According to Forrest, it's the sense of mystery—something akin to prayer. The games also solicit an emotional response from players.

Essentially, gambling triggers chemical changes in the brain. It releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers.

And despite the lack of motion involved during slot play, which Forrest describes as a near meditative state, there is physical enjoyment in the activity. The timing of spins tend to coincide with their rhythmic breathing, inducing relaxation, he says.

Even the slot's motion produces a positive effect. "The reels descend. It's a very powerful thing. They force eyes to do a little up-and-down dance," Forrest says. "The eye movement mimics a number of things that are important to us—like submission, hypnotic obedience and also awe."

The upward glance is no accident. Machines often instruct players to glance upwards when they reach a bonus round. "You have to raise eyes up almost to heaven for the manna to pour down upon you. If your eyes go even further, you see the vaulted ceilings of the cathedral-like palaces we have built for our slot machines."

And what keeps players seated? It's the randomness, which our brains cannot comprehend. It's a "god of chance," as Forrest puts it.

"We connect then to the random laws of the universe, which are, in a sense, bigger than we are, or inexplicable," Forrest says. "These are aspects that we attribute to deity."

Also read: The Long, Colorful, Profitable History of Slot Machines.