From an anonymous book review of Natasha Dow Schüll’s Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas, hosted on Astral Codex Ten:

Before I read this book, I had an unsubstantiated theory for why people gambled: it’s because every gambler thought he would be the one to beat the odds. In other words, people gambled to earn money. Sure, gamblers knew that most other gamblers lose money, but that just means that gambling is a high-risk high-reward activity. Gamblers were willing to bear the risk in order to have a shot at the reward.

When it comes to machine gamblers, my theory is completely incorrect. People who spend hours and hundreds on machine games are not after big wins, but escape. They go to machines to escape from unpredictable life into the “zone.”

The primary objective that machine gambling addicts have is not to win, but to stay in the zone. The zone is a state that suspends real life, and reduces the world to the screen and the buttons of the machine. Entering the zone is easiest when gamblers can get into a rhythm. Anything that disrupts the rhythm becomes an annoyance. This is true even when the disruption is winning the game.