Author Sandra Adell talks about gambling addiction
True Confessions
Sandra Adell wrote about her
experiences with slot machine

By Jonathan Gramling

Part 2 of 2

      Dr. Sandra Adell, a professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-
Madison, is an actress and model. She has posed for many a print advertising campaign. She
didn’t believe in gambling, almost turned her nose up to those who did. In fact, she even posed
for some casino and Wisconsin Lottery ads. But she went right in and left right out after the
cameras were turned off. The stale, smoke-filled air, the bright flashing lights and constant noise
were a turn-off to her. It was something beneath her … Or so she thought.
      In 2005, Adell became addicted to slot machine gambling. “I couldn’t understand how
someone could be addicted to a machine,” Adell said during an interview with The Hues. “I’m
thinking addiction is you drink too much or you take a drug or something like that. But research
is showing that these machines are extremely mesmerizing. And they do affect the brain
chemistry. There is something called the reward system in the brain. Neuroscientists are doing a
lot of work on that with the functional MRIs and so forth and showing some changes in the
chemistry in the brain for certain activities. And one of those is gambling. I didn’t know that was
going on with me. I just knew something strange was happening.”
Over the course of the next four years, Adell fought her addiction by studying it. And her
research and introspection culminated in Adell’s recently published book “Confessions of a Slot
Machine Queen.”
      Adell didn’t necessarily like slot machine gambling. She hated the smoky air in them and the
shrillness of the noises disturbed her. “I didn’t enjoy it when the bells and whistles went off
when I won,” Adell said. “What I couldn’t understand was why I was there gambling. I didn’t
enjoy it. The first time I went with the bells and whistles, it made me so nervous. I had gotten to
the point where I couldn’t sleep because I would hear this. It was like bells ringing in my head. Some nights, I would lie in bed and I
could see these symbols and the machines. I was pretty messed up and didn’t realize how messed up I was. There are certain sounds
on cell phones and computers that I can’t stand to hear. There’s a reason for that. It triggers something. The noise and the smoke and
there is a funky smell that goes with the gambling. I read that these casinos have people creating certain kinds of fragrances and
scents to induce people. They are assaulting all of your senses. That’s part of the design so that you are kept there to gamble.”
Adell feels that most people don’t enjoy gambling, per se. Somehow, when people enter them, their normal common sense gets
checked in at the door. “If you look at the people at the slot machines, they look very tired,” Adell said. “Most of them don’t look happy.
There is a sense of desperation around them. In casinos, money changes value. We think that it is the casino’s money if we win it from
the machine. It’s not our money. And so we end up spending and doing crazy stuff. Sometimes I went up there with $200-$300 and was
broke in 45 minutes or less.”
      According to Adell, there is nothing coincidental about how casinos are configured and set up. They are designed to separate you
from your money. “Slot machine gambling is the fastest kind of gambling on the planet,” Adell said. “Even with the card games, you
have to wait a couple of seconds. With the horses, you have to wait for something to happen. You are selling something to poor people
who risk losing everything to make that win. This is even worse than the lottery because again, with the lottery, you have to wait for the
numbers to come out. And slot machines are the most mesmerizing. There is a reason why casinos have so many slot machines on the
floor. And think about it. You can’t get out of a casino without walking through rows of slot machines. That’s because that is the money
      Back in the old days, according to Adell, casino gambling was limited to Las Vegas, Atlantic City, New Jersey and cruises off the
coast of Florida in international waters, what Adell called “Cruises to Nowhere.” But in the last 20 years, all of that has changed with
the rapid expansion of the casino industry.
      “Most people — if they were going to Las Vegas — have to save up some money and plan it,” Adell said. “I’m talking about people
who don’t live in the area. It was the same thing with Atlantic City. Put a casino in or near your community so you can go to it 2-3 times
per week. One of my concerns is that as I began to become more aware and get caught up in this and saw the danger here — because
I am just an ordinary person without a lot of money — how the danger and the devastation when you put casinos so close to residential
places. The people who have these casinos are incredibly wealthy, but the people who patronize them are not. And there is almost
nothing written, even in the scholarly journals, about the impact of gambling on communities of color and Black people specifically.”
When the lotteries and riverboat gambling were first permitted in many states through amendments to state constitutions, they were
looked at as harmless, almost passive generators of tax revenues. Sometimes the fact that the state’s share of the proceeds would go
toward education was highly touted. It was a quick fix for holes in state budgets. These decisions, in Adell’s view were made by
legislators who didn’t gamble themselves and looked upon the state proceeds of gambling as a kind of “sin tax” on an activity that
people would do illegally if they couldn’t do it legally.
      But the cost to local economies was never really explored. Adell looked at the impact of casino gambling on her native Detroit. She
didn’t like what she saw.
      “Detroit defeated the referendums for casinos about five times when they were on the ballot,” Adell said. “They finally gave in
because so many people were going to Windsor to gamble. The argument was that they needed to keep the revenue in Detroit. So they
built three casinos, each within 2.5 miles of the others in the downtown area. It’s a wasteland all around. The rationale for that was ‘If
we have these casinos here, the out-of-town tourists will come to Detroit to gamble and stay in the hotels and use the restaurants.’ Well
what happens is — and economists have shown this — when these casinos go into these communities, things around them close up
within six months. The restaurants can’t compete with the prices and people are gambling instead of going to the restaurants or
spending for goods and services around the casinos. And Detroit is devastated. It never made any sense to have those casinos down
there. People who come into the city from the suburbs, they gamble, and if they win, they take their money, get on the expressway and
go back out. They aren’t spending money in the local economy.”
      Adell isn’t advocating for the closing down of the casino industry. The cat is already out of the bag. But she is opposed to the
expansion of casino and slot machine gambling. And she is concerned about what might happen in Beloit — a community with a large
poor African American population — if a new casino is allowed to be constructed there in the next few years.
      “It is the local people who gamble there,” Adell emphasized. “And they lose their livelihoods. All of those coffee shops and
everything they have in the Beloit area where they are going to put this casino, they’ll be gone within months because they can’t
compete. And the thing that really disturbs me is that I don’t see any opposition from the grassroots about what is going to happen in
Beloit. There will be a casino in Beloit during the next few years. Where is the opposition? Where are the questions at least?”
In her research, Adell did find some successful grassroots campaigns, although it seems that the casino industry always seems to
have its way in the end. “When Don Barton, the first Black man to own a casino, tried to put one in Pittsburgh in the Hill District where
August Wilson’s plays are based, those people came out and picketed,” Adell said. “They didn’t want a casino in their community. So
what happened? It went two miles away. It’s in Pittsburgh. It’s in the city.”
      The nuances of casino gambling have infiltrated our lexicon during the past 20 years. Things that society once frowned upon are
now openly accepted. The extreme side of the gambling spirit infected Wall Street. “When all of these arguments and debates were
going on about the bailouts for the big banks and so forth, they were using certain language, casino capitalism, for instance, to
describe what is happening with the banks and the way people were walking around with all of this money,” Adell noted. “I found it
interesting because there were big gambles going on with the swaps and derivatives. So they used this term casino gambling.”
With a lot of therapy, Adell was able to get her gambling addiction under control. It remains to be seen if our local and national
economies are able to do the same.
      Sandra Adell’s book, Confessions of a Slot Machine Queen, can be purchased at University Bookstore and Rainbow Bookstore
Cooperative. Or buy it online at For further information about Confessions, e-mail Adell at