About 1% of the US population (around 3.2 million Americans) has a gambling disorder, per the National Center for Responsible Gaming—and the Atlantic tells the tragic story of one of those addicts and how a lawsuit took the entire industry to task for his death. Scott Stevens was a successful Ohio finance exec whose life started unraveling in 2006 after a trade show in Vegas. For six years, his gambling habit spiraled out of control: He sneaked off to gamble when his wife thought he was working, embezzled nearly $4 million from his firm, and drained his family's savings—until the day in 2012 he decided to end his life. After his suicide, Stacy started researching gambling addiction (she hadn't even known about her husband's problem) and filed suit against the West Virginia casino where he was a regular, as well as the maker of the slot machines there.
Experts relay how casinos track and target addicted gamblers, supply ready flows of cash via on-site ATMs, and offer plenty of perks to keep them coming back. But it's the modern-day slot machines themselves, with deceptive technology called virtual reel mapping, that seem to be designed to lull gamblers into a trance—or what the industry refers to as "continuous gaming productivity"—so they don't stop playing. While the casinos and machine manufacturers place the blame for gambling addictions on individuals, Terry Noffsinger, the lead attorney for the Stevens suit, says these addictive machines are not due to "negligence. It's intentional." Stacy Stevens lost her case in West Virginia, but Noffsinger believes the movement to hold casinos accountable for addicts will gain momentum, much like how the tobacco industry eventually paid for sickening its own customers. "The public is learning more about it," he says. (Read about the tech behind the slot machines here.)