Mapping the Machine Zone
On a weekday evening in the fall of 1999, Mollie and I sit at the floor-length windows of a room high in the South Tower of the Main Street Station Hotel and Casino in downtown Las Vegas. Blinking brightly below us is a four-block stretch of Fremont Street, the city’s former central artery of casino life. At the top of Fremont begins the long flicking perpendicular of Las Vegas Boulevard, otherwise known as the “Strip,” a corridor of commercial gambling that extends for five miles in a southwesterly direction until it reaches the edge of the city and fades into gas stations, billboards, and desert. As the sky grows darker, pockets of light flare up in the relatively dim areas to either side of this infamous thoroughfare, marking off-Strip gambling establishments that cater to a burgeoning local clientele.
Mollie’s frequent video poker play at these establishments has earned her a complimentary stay at Main Street Station. Her eleven-year-old son, Jimmy, lies lengthwise on the bed behind us, his gaze riveted to the television screen as his hands work the controls of the PlayStation console his mother has rented from the front desk to occupy him while we talk. “Mom, it’s the Vegas game,” says Jimmy from the bed. “You drive all around Vegas and try to play games.” “Oh great, that’s all we need,” she responds.
—Natasha Dow Schüll, Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas (Princeton University Press). Schüll is a cultural anthropologist and associate professor at MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society.