Group Hosts Gambling Lecture‘Bringing Down the House’ Author Is One of Three Speakers at Forum

453 gambling
Ben Mezrich, bestselling author of Bringing Down the House and Busting Vegas, talks about his books and how he became acquainted with the MIT Blackjack Team. Mezrich was one of three featured speakers at a Technology & Culture Forum at MIT lecture Wednesday, Oct. 17 in 10-250.
Alex H. Chan—The Tech

Approximately 75 people attended the Technology & Culture Forum at MIT lecture, “Gambling: Face to Face or interface?” held Wednesday evening in 10-250. The lecture featured bestselling author Ben Mezrich, famous for his novels about the MIT Blackjack Team.

Other speakers at the event were MIT Assistant Professor Natasha Schüll of the Program on Science, Technology, and Society and Maressa H. Orzack, founder of the Computer Addiction Service and faculty at Harvard Medical School.

The forum aimed to discuss “the culture of gaming in America and the way new technologies are changing it,” according to the T&C Web site.

Mezrich started the forum by narrating how he became acquainted with the MIT Blackjack Team, then presented brief synopses of his two best-selling books, Bringing Down the House and Busting Vegas, in which he describes how two different groups of MIT students played lucratively profitable blackjack. “I was always a horrible gambler,” he said. However, after meeting a few members of the team at the Crossroads Irish Pub in Boston, he decided to follow them to Vegas and wrote the books soon thereafter.

Bringing Down the House has been adapted into a movie titled “21,” which is set for Spring 2008 release. However, Mezrich said that the film is “more like an MIT kid trying to get laid instead of the book I wrote.”

“Ben Mezrich’s story has a visible cult status,” Xaq Z. Frohlich G, T&C event organizer, said. “The other speakers paint a broader picture [of the gaming world].”

Schüll followed Mezrich and presented work from her doctoral dissertation on compulsive gambling in Las Vegas, especially in machine-based games such as slot machines.

She described how the engineers who design slot machines skirt laws regarding manipulation of gamblers, and how the machines are set up to induce an anesthetic-like “zone” to keep players gambling. “What players are describing is a form of exiting the world, dropping out, and escaping,” said Schüll, whose new book Machine Life: Control and Compulsion in Las Vegas is set to be published by Princeton University Press next year.

Orzack concluded the forum by sharing insight regarding Internet Usage Disorder, an extreme case of Internet addiction in which patients exhibit abnormal sleeping and eating habits and show a significant drop in their grades or productivity. She presented information from her 15 years’ experience in treating addictive behavior at McLean Hospital.

The purpose of the forum is to encourage MIT students “to think more deeply about personal responsibility and how to exercise it,” T&C Coordinator Amy McCreath said. “I hope to raise awareness of the dangers of online addiction.”