tv 60 Minutes on CNBC CNBC September 28, 2014 9:00pm-10:01pm EDT
now exercise. that's our edition of 60 minutes on cnbc. i'm bob simon. thanks for joining us. [ticking] [ticking] >> warren buffett, america's second-richest man, is a household name, his son howard not so much. and yet he's the person warren buffett wants to succeed him as chairman of berkshire hathaway, the mega holding company that buffett built. like his father, howard does not live the high life. in fact, he's a farmer who would rather dig up the ground than sit in a boardroom. are you sure he's your son? >> well, i think that's worth checking out. you'll have a big exclusive. [ticking] [bell ringing] >> for 150 years, the floor of the new york stock exchange was the center of the financial
world. but today most trading in stocks is done elsewhere by robot computers that buy and sell in microseconds, faster than you can blink an eye. and the computers have done so well that some institutional traders have come to believe that the game is rigged. are humans ever involved in the trading? >> humans are not involved in the trading because humans are way too slow. [ticking] >> there are close to 850,000 of them in the united states, twice the number of atms. the new slot machines, the main attraction at casinos, are like high-tech video games. and states across america are increasingly relying on them to raise revenue: 38 states and growing, including pennsylvania. but the former governor ed rendell didn't appreciate some of our questions about it. >> you guys don't get that! >> i do get it. >> you're simpletons. you're idiots if you don't get that. >> welcome to 60 minutes on cnbc.
i'm steve kroft. in this edition, we look at the world of big deals on wall street and in las vegas and examine the impact of high-speed computers in both places. we begin with perhaps the most famous investor of them all, warren buffett. his fame extends far beyond wall street, his oldest son, howard, not so much. and yet he's the person warren buffett wants to succeed him as chairman of berkshire hathaway, the mega holding company that buffett built. for most of his adult life, howard has been a corn and soybean farmer in nebraska and illinois. and as lesley stahl first reported in december of 2011, howard doesn't live the high life, and he loves getting down in the dirt. >> this is the man who'll become the next chairman of the company-acquiring, investment-picking, moneymaking machine berkshire hathaway if warren buffett has his way. howard is a farmer who would rather dig up the ground and drive big machines
than sit in a boardroom. were you stunned? were you surprised? >> i was surprised. >> but no sign that he's about to leave? >> he won't leave until he's buried in the ground. i hate to put it that way. >> this is no gentleman farmer. howard buffett works his 1,500 acres in pana, illinois, himself. we're gonna go pick some corn? >> yeah, we're gonna pick corn. >> this year, he harvested 87,000 bushels of corn with his 300-horsepower combine that he runs hands-free off gps. you're like a kid, you know, that can ride his bike without his hands, right? >> it's a big toy. >> it's a big toy. >> but it's expensive. >> but with corn prices soaring, he can afford it. and incidentally, even a farmer named buffett can get farm subsidies. howard received $300,000 in federal payments over 13 years. here's something you said once. here's a quote: "it seemed nothing i could do
would be as successful as what he did," meaning dad. >> that comment would mean that in the world's eyes, you know, i would never be seen in the same success as he would, particularly in investing and in business. that's okay. i mean, you know, and my mom and dad always made it clear that that was okay. >> there's no sense in trying to compete with me, because he's not gonna play my game. he should have his own game. grain shipments were down a lot last week. >> warren buffett says he always told howard to find something he loved as much as he loved making money. >> naturally i have a lot of top secret stuff, but we got to keep that between us. >> you always do. >> so you're all business. i think of you as mr. indoors. >> you've got it. >> i got it. so here you have this son. >> i know. >> he's a farmer. he's outdoors. he's down in the dirt. are you sure he's your son? >> well, i think that's worth checking out. you'll have a big exclusive. >> well, he is really different. explain that. >> well, he likes not only
farming. he likes machinery too. i mean, i think he likes doing big things, you know, moving dirt. he just is happiest when he's working hard. i'm happiest when i'm just kind of sitting around watching football. >> howard's different in another way. he's an active, hands-on philanthropist who visits up to 20 countries a year. the howard g. buffett foundation focuses on world hunger, spending $50 million a year on projects like feeding programs in ethiopia and agriculture education in afghanistan. and he records it all through the lens of his own camera. >> you all of a sudden begin to kind of look around, and you notice there's a lot of people around that don't look too good. and, you know, they're hungry. and they don't have great living quarters. they may not have access to water. they don't have good sanitation. >> you were seeing farmers who couldn't feed themselves? >> oh, absolutely. i looked at that, and i thought, "you know, this is wrong. i understand agriculture.
i should be able to do something about this." [ticking] >> coming up: the challenges of philanthropy. >> you know bill gates. have you said to him, "80% of what you're throwing down there in africa is not gonna work"? >> well, i've said it a little differently, i think, and that is that we need to quit thinking about trying to do it like we do it in america. >> the buffetts and bill gates when 60 minutes on cnbc returns. ♪
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>> warren buffett wants his oldest son, howard, to succeed him as chairman of his multibillion-dollar holding company, berkshire hathaway. it's not unusual for a father to want his son to take over the family business. but it's a little unusual in this case. howard doesn't pick stocks, he picks corn. howard buffett is a farmer. and as lesley stahl discovered in december 2011, he devotes a lot of his time and money to helping others learn how to farm better. [rooster crows] >> in places like el salvador, he's funding a training program for 5,000 poor farmers like carla and edwin trujillo. they learn new planting and fertilizing techniques to improve the quality of their corn and red beans. >> carla, i'm howard. >> hola. mucho gusto. >> buenos dias. >> we tagged along as howard inspected their six-acre plot in the tiny village of san juan el espino. >> and she's got an irrigation system. >> no big combines here.
and their irrigation? it consists of hoses connected to a barrel of water brought in by a horse. howard wanted to check on the quality of carla's corn. >> does she mind? tell her i won't destroy her corn crop. >> and that meant doing his favorite thing. you're gonna dig it up? >> yeah. >> come on. he didn't just dig up her corn. he was like a doctor doing an invasive exam, pulling up the roots, ripping it open... >> you always have tough husks in this part of the world. >> and cracking it in half. his verdict? >> you've done an excellent job with what you've got. >> since howard's program started, carla has doubled her income. in one way, at least, he is like his dad. he insists that the farmers learn accounting and managing credit and that they buy their own seed. >> they're looking for the standard kernels. >> howard buffett is making a big difference but on a small scale. he started out giving farmers
the best of modern agricultural technology. but now he only teaches methods they can afford themselves after his projects end. howard's passion for farming started early. when he was just five, he turned the family backyard into a cornfield. his father was fast becoming a multimillionaire, but the family always lived modestly. did you know, as a kid, that you were rich? >> no, not at all. and the greatest story is my sister, who, when you had to go around the room in grade school and answer, "what does your father do?" and, you know, we knew him as a security analyst, and we had no idea what that really meant. and so she basically said, "well, he's a security guard." and that's what we thought for a long time. we just didn't know any differently, you know. >> as his father's fame and fortune grew, howard seemed to zig and zag on his own path,
dropping out of three colleges, one after the next. you must have been worried. >> i wasn't. >> you weren't? >> no, i wasn't. he just was kind of finding what he wanted to do. and it made no difference to me whether he found it in a college or not. >> really? now, that is an unusual parent. >> it is an unusual parent. but it was the way both his mother and i felt. none of our kids graduated from college. now, if they pool all their credits, we can get a degree. i mean, i thought we ought to do that and pass it around. >> once howard settled on farming, warren bought land for him but then made his son pay rent and tied it to his body weight. so if you gain weight, your rent goes up, and if you lose weight, the rent goes down. >> something like that, yeah. financial incentives are supposed to work in some things. they don't work very well in weight, incidentally. >> but why wouldn't you just give your son a farm? >> well, i just don't think that's, you know, the way to bring up a son. i mean, i don't think he's entitled to be given a farm just because his last name is buffett. we didn't want them to see the
world, you know, through the lens of a superrich kid that got everything he wanted. >> you just didn't want spoiled little rich kids. >> yeah. yeah. >> warren buffett was famously unwilling to give his money away to charity... >> i'm turning it over to you. >> so it came as a big surprise five years ago when he donated the vast bulk of his fortune, some $31 billion, to the gates foundation. >> it's a big challenge for us to make sure that this money gets used in the right way. >> bill gates is often described as warren's third son. they vacation together, spend birthdays together. so the size of his gift to gates left an impression that the buffett children were given short shrift. warren buffett doesn't believe in inherited wealth. >> i don't believe in lots of inherited wealth. i haven't been spending my life trying to figure out how to transfer wealth and not have taxes and all of that so there can be a dynasty of all kinds of little buffetts going around for hundreds of years never having to do anything.
>> but don't cry for those little buffetts. howard, his brother, peter, and sister, susan, have gotten multimillion-dollar gifts of money and berkshire hathaway stock from their parents. so while he's not on the fortune 500, howard is by any measure a wealthy man. on top the outright gifts, each buffett child is getting $1 billion to go toward their philanthropy. but all that pales next to the $31 billion that's going to the gates foundation. so did you know, as far back as you can remember, that you were not going to inherit his money? >> yeah, yeah. >> you've sort of always known that as you were growing up? >> yeah. and from time to time, that was a little frustrating. >> 'cause you wanted it, or what do you mean? >> well, i just mean, you know, you feel like that there are a lot of things you could do if you had more money. and i think that way even in the foundation. >> but here's the irony. bill gates is spending a huge chunk of warren buffett's money
on poor farmers in africa, giving them hybrid seeds and synthetic fertilizers. it's exactly the kind of high-tech approach howard tried and now feels is doomed to fail with farmers who make barely $1 a day. >> they're pushing a system that really is similar to what we have outside this door. >> but isn't that wonderful? >> no. what i would argue is that at some point, those guys are gonna go home and the money's gonna not be there. it's exactly the same thing we did. and i don't feel it worked. >> you know bill gates. have you said to him, "80% of what you're throwing down there in africa is not gonna work"? >> well, i've said it a little differently, i think, and that is that we need to quit thinking about trying to do it like we do it in america. >> howie's the farmer here, so he can speak with knowledge. i'm the city boy on the panel. >> bill gates and howard buffett were both honored recently at the state department for their work on combating world hunger,
work underwritten in both cases by the largesse of warren buffett. so your father gives all his money to gates. you come out and tell us what he's doing is all wrong. >> i'm not saying it's all wrong. >> well, a lot of it's wrong. little bit of sibling rivalry there? >> no. >> maybe? >> you know, once in a while, we call him "brother bill." >> exactly. >> no, you know what? bill gates is the smartest guy in the world next to my dad, maybe. i better say that if i'm on tape. >> how old are you? >> i'm 81, but i feel good. >> yeah, you look great. warren buffett says if the berkshire hathaway board approves his son as chairman after he dies, howard would not be paid and would not run the company day to day. howard would be what warren calls "the guardian of the culture." what were you worried about? >> well, you worry that somebody will be in charge of berkshire that uses it as their own sandbox in some way, that changes the way that decisions are made in reference
to the shareholders. you know, the odds of that happening are very, very, very low. but having howie there adds just one extra layer of protection. >> i guess someone who's on the outside looking in would say, "but what does he know about this business?" >> oh, he knows plenty about the business, in the sense of the values of the business, sure, sure. i mean, he doesn't know what insurance policy we're writing today, you know, or how many carloads the bnsf carried last week or something. but he knows the values of it. >> besides, howard is the only one of buffett's children who has been a corporate executive in agribusiness and the only one who has ever served on the berkshire board. let me just make sure i understand you. you will not be picking investments. >> absolutely not. and i shouldn't. i mean, you know. >> do you have concerns about taking over this big role? >> well, as long as i can keep farming, i'm okay. >> and as long as he can keep funding projects in remote regions of the world, where, as we found, he is still working
on becoming a household name. what did you know about howard buffett before? had you ever heard of him? >> no a esta hora y... >> never heard of him? >> nada, nada. >> had you ever heard of his father? he has a very famous father, warren buffett. had you ever heard of him? >> si. >> oh, i'm impressed. >> as we reported, howard buffett doesn't always agree with bill gates on the best ways to help farm development in africa. but that doesn't mean they can't work together. towards the end of 2011, the howard buffett foundation announced it was joining with the gates foundation to support the work of n2africa, a dutch-led initiative to improve soil quality and increase agricultural productivity in eight african countries. the $2 million donation from the buffett foundation will support work in sierra leone and liberia. [ticking] coming up: making money faster than you can blink... are humans ever involved in the trading? >> humans are not involved in
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join the scientists and engineers of exxonmobil in inspiring america's future engineers. energy lives here. [ticking] >> most people don't know it, but the majority of stock trades made in the united states are no longer being made by human beings but by high-speed computers capable of buying and selling thousands of different securities in the time it takes you to blink an eye. it's known as high-frequency trading. and as we first reported in october 2010, the securities and exchange commission and members of congress are asking some tough questions about its usefulness and potential dangers. [bell ringing] for 150 years, the floor of the new york stock exchange was the center of the financial world, the economic engine that helped american business raise capital and create jobs. today it's still the public facade of wall street and a television backdrop for reporters relaying financial
news. but less than 30% of the trading is conducted here now. and the specialists and the noise of the floor is being replaced by the speed and quiet efficiency of computers, and the action is moved elsewhere. there are now more than 80 alternative trading systems around the country plus two electronic stock exchanges which most of you have probably never heard of: b.a.t.s. and direct edge. they're owned by the big banks and by high-frequency trading firms. and neither of them would give us an interview or let us inside to film their operations. but they trade more than a billion shares a day at blinding speed, and most of those bets are being made by machines. the players range from firms like goldman sachs, barclays, credit suisse, and morgan stanley to hedge funds and smaller operations like tradeworx, which is the only high-frequency trading firm that would talk to us or let us in. it's run by manoj narang and a small group of mathematicians
and scientists called "quants," which is short for quantitative analysts. and their high-speed computers trade 40 million shares every day. are humans ever involved in the trading? >> humans are not involved in the trading because humans are way too slow to trade on the kinds of opportunities that we're trying to capture. we're trying to capture opportunities that exist for only fractions of a second. this stock over here was down 1.8% for the past week. >> the tradeworx computers don't care where a stock is going to be trading next year, next month, next week, or even tomorrow, because they're going to be in and out of it today, in a matter of minutes. what's the point of buying and selling a stock that you hold for three minutes? >> the same objective that all other participants have in the market is to make money. you buy low, sell high. that's how you make money. >> and the computer will know when to buy and when to sell? >> sure, the computer is monitoring real-time data, and it knows what to do with that data and how to make decisions based on that. >> what narang
and other high-frequency traders tell their computers to do is to make a profit of a penny or less 40 million times day. they scan the different exchanges, trying to anticipate which direction individual stocks are likely to move in the next fraction of a second based on current market conditions and statistical analysis of past performance. but the computers have no real understanding of who these companies are and what they do. so it doesn't really know whether a company is well managed or whether-- >> not at all. >> and it doesn't care. >> it doesn't know who the ceo is or what that ceo's background is, doesn't know the management team. >> whether he's going through a divorce... >> exactly. >> whether he's just been sued for sexual harassment. >> right. it knows information that you can quantify about the company. >> it's all math. >> it's all probability and statistics, a procedure that you can define precisely. >> the trading instructions are programmed into the computers with complicated mathematical formulas called algorithms. narang showed us how it works
with a simple hypothetical example he uses for demonstration purposes. >> i'm going to test a strategy where if a stock went down 5% for the past week, i'm going to buy $5 of that stock. and if a different stock went up 10% last week, i'm going to sell $10 of that stock. and i'm going to do that for every stock that's in my tradable universe simultaneously. >> which is how many? >> which is over 4,000 stocks, about 4,500 stocks. >> the strategy, which could only be successfully executed with a high-speed computer, would result in almost as many losing trades as winners but over the past eight years would have produced a tidy profit, something that narang and other high-frequency traders have gotten used to. and how successful have you been? >> we've had two or three days in a row where we lose money. but we've never had a week, so far, where we lost. we've never had a month that was a loser for us. [ticking] >> coming up: is high-frequency trading good
for business? do these high-frequency trades have anything to do with market fundamentals? >> valuation is irrelevant. it's all about just moving the price up and down the ladder all day long. >> that's ahead when 60 minutes on cnbc returns. ♪ turn around ♪ every now and then i get a little bit hungry ♪ ♪ and there's nothing good around ♪ ♪ turn around, barry ♪ i finally found the right snack ♪ [ female announcer ] fiber one. i lochecked bag.free ♪ i finally found the right snack ♪ with my united mileageplus explorer card. i have saved $75 in checked bag fees. priority boarding is
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recent estimates have ranged as high as 70%. and institutional traders like joe saluzzi of themis trading llc have come to believe that the game is rigged. >> how can you make money day after day? there was even one firm that said they made money four years in a row, every single day. well, you have to be getting information that other people don't have. otherwise, statistically, that's an impossibility. >> actually, high-frequency traders are getting the same market information that joe saluzzi gets. they're just getting it a little bit sooner. it's only a few fractions of a second sooner, but if you're running supercomputers, saluzzi says, it can be an eternity. what you're saying is, the people with the fastest computers have an advantage. they get the best deals. >> every time. absolutely, there's no doubt about it. i mean, if they're spending that kind of money and they're using that type of infrastructure, they're doing it for a reason, and it is to get a speed advantage in that respect. >> it's not just the speed of the supercomputers that's important. it's also their physical location.
the closer they are to the stock exchange's server, the quicker they'll be able to get critical market information. >> well, this has been in the works for at least four years at this point. larry leibowitz, the chief operating officer of the new york stock exchange, believes its massive new data center in mahwah, new jersey, will help the exchange regain some of the market share it's lost to electronic trading platforms. and he's busy persuading traders to lease space in these stark black boxes for their supercomputers. this is one of the pods? >> this is one of the pods. this is the nerve center. >> it's called co-location, a service that high-frequency traders will pay tens of thousands of dollars a month for, and includes access to raw data from the exchange that is almost instantaneous. >> you know, we're getting down to, you know, how fast can the electrons travel at this point? >> they can predict the price of a stock before you can because of the speed that they're using. >> so they actually see the trades before you do? >> they can see order flow coming into the exchanges before
a regular person off of, say, a bloomberg or somebody who doesn't have the co-location, the data feeds, and all the other sophisticated technology that they employ, which is not cheap, by the way. it's extremely expensive to set these things up. >> how much faster do they see it? >> it could be a few milliseconds. >> how much of an advantage is a couple of milliseconds? >> millions, if not billions, of dollars a year. >> that edge, joe saluzzi claims, has made high-frequency traders the new insiders on wall street. and he says he spots signs of predatory behavior every day. saluzzi, who trades large blocks of stock for institutional investors, says the supercomputers are programmed to place and then cancel thousands of orders a second, trying to sniff out which way a market is moving in order to jump in ahead of big rallies and sell off before big declines. he calls them parasites who exploit a technological advantage to suck money out of the market and add no value. does it raise capital for companies? >> absolutely not.
if anything, it's distracting from the capital-raising process. >> do these high-frequency trades have anything to do with market fundamentals? >> valuation is irrelevant. it's all about just moving the price up and down the ladder all day long. each day is new. each day starts fresh. so you have to question the true valuation of the markets now. >> larry leibowitz of the new york stock exchange says there is absolutely no evidence that small investors are being hurt by high-frequency trading. most of them, he says, don't care about pennies when they're buying and selling stocks, and they're in it for the longer haul. >> look, there's always been charges for as long as trading has existed that people are front-running orders, manipulating stocks. this is nothing new. i think now you add to it the element of the mysterious element of the computer, and it makes people even more mistrustful. >> leibowitz and other proponents of high-frequency, high-speed computer trading say it's performed a valuable function: tripling volume, reducing stock spreads and transaction costs, and providing liquidity to the markets.
>> liquidity means that if you want to buy or sell a stock, you could do it right away, and you could do it at a fair price. that's what liquidity means. and without short-term traders, there is no liquidity. >> traders like manoj narang say their presence in the market is making it cheaper and easier for everyone to buy and sell stocks. but regulators and lawmakers like senator ted kaufman of delaware have other concerns. >> clearly, liquidity's way up. but what i say is, liquidity's always trumped by transparency and fairness. you can't have fairness if you don't have transparency. >> senator kaufman, who has both business and engineering degrees, says he's a big fan of technology, but he thinks it's gotten way ahead of financial regulators' ability to monitor it. right now, it's not even possible to determine for sure who is making high-frequency trades or what they're telling their computers to do. >> we do not know what's going on inside those boxes. there's all types of allegations about what's going on inside there.
and basically what can happen is, you can have these meltdowns where you can have a computer just go crazy and cause all kinds of problems. >> come on! >> which takes us to the mini crash on may 6, 2010, and one of the scariest rides in stock market history, when the dow industrials at one point plunged 600 points for no apparent reason. turns out it was triggered when a mutual fund's computer dumped $4.1 billion of securities on the market in a 20-minute period, which were then gobbled up by the computers of high-frequency traders and sold almost immediately, sending other computers and traders heading for the exits. >> the events of may 6th scared people. i don't think there's any question about that. >> s.e.c. chairman mary schapiro had already proposed rule changes before may 6th that would allow regulators to track and tag high-frequency traders, and she is now considering further measures.
are you comfortable with computers making, you know, 50% to 70% of the trades on wall street? >> one of the concerns is, if one goes wrong, if it operates in an unexpected way, given market conditions, what's the impact of that algorithm that has behaved in an unexpected way on lots of other investors in the marketplace? >> and chairman schapiro says it's happened since the may 6th crash after circuit breakers were put in place that automatically halt trading in a stock that moves more than 10% in a five-minute period. >> a number of times that those circuit breakers have been triggered has been because an algorithm operated in a way nobody intended for it to do, causing a stock price to go wildly out of range. >> the crash contributed to the crisis in confidence on wall street. since last spring, people have pulled $70 billion out of mutual funds. and the biggest concern of chairman schapiro and senator kaufman is that average investors have
lost faith in the integrity of the system. is that correct? >> yes, that's true or correct. and i'll give you an example. when i was at wharton, a professor came to me and said, "you know, there's a river of wealth that runs through this country. just a very small number of people know that it exists. some people can stand on a high hill and see it off in the distance, some people can get up to the edge, and there's other people that are swimming in it." that's the perception american people have about what's going on on wall street right now. they believe there's a small number of people who are swimming in this river of wealth. >> there are a lot of people out there who think that the stock market is rigged, rigged in the sense that there are people out there who have advantages: the insiders, the big companies. >> yup. and i think that we have to do a better job of, first, obviously making sure it's not the case. but we can't be evasive about it. we have to make changes that make sense, that give people more confidence in the market, add more transparency, and make people feel like, "this is a place i can trust my retirement savings to." >> since we first aired this story, the securities and exchange commission has proposed
further reforms. but it hasn't slowed down the high-frequency traders, who are now moving into currency and commodity markets. [ticking] coming up: the high cost of high-speed slot machines. >> it takes your soul. it takes your humanity. >> taking a big gamble, next on 60 minutes on cnbc. ♪searching with devotion ♪for a snack that isn't lame ♪but this... ♪takes my breath away over 12,000 financial advisors. so, how are things? good, good. nearly $800 billion dollars in assets under care.
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little gas in your car. there's probably a casino in your state or right next door. as lesley stahl first reported in january of 2011, more and more states across the united states are relying on revenue from casino gambling to help solve their budget deficit. the main attraction at these gambling halls is the new slot machines. we americans spend more money on slots than on movies, baseball, and theme parks combined. but with slots, there is the potential for a dangerous side effect: gambling addiction. and more people are addicted to slots than any form of gambling. [slot machines beeping] >> this is what slot machines used to look like, where you pull the handle and hope for three of a kind. [slot machine beeping] this is what they look like today. the modern slots are like high-tech video games that play music and scenes from tv shows.
you can play hundreds of lines at once, and instead of pulling a handle, you bet by pushing buttons, which means each bet can be completed in as little as 3 1/2 seconds. it looks like great fun, but it can be dangerously addictive. >> whether or not it's their intention, the gambling industry is designing machines that can addict people. >> mit anthropology professor natasha schull has studied gambling addiction for over 15 years. she's interviewed gamblers, casino owners, and slot machine designers. do you think that most people would even think that a machine could addict you, that a machine can do the same thing that a drug could? >> what addiction really has to do is with the speed of rewards. and these machines, if they're packing 1,200 hands per hour into play, you're being exposed--you could see that as being exposed to a higher dose.
>> a higher dose, ys schl, because all that speed means more bets, and that means more excitement. and no machine is better for that than the penny slot, the most popular game on the casino floor. because the bets are small, you can place hundreds of them at a time. >> another core aspect of their addictiveness is their continuous nature. you're not interrupted by anything. you're not waiting for the horses to run. you're not waiting for the guy next to you to choose his card to put down. there's no roulette wheel spinning. it's just you and the machine. it's a continuous flow without interruption. >> i found that the machines were wonderful. i loved the excitement. i loved the people. i loved the camaraderie, the high fives when you win. it was just very exciting. >> sandi hall lives only a short drive from thousands of slot machines in rhode island and connecticut. married with two daughters, she worked in a bookstore and used to look at the casinos as an entertaining break.
but eventually she was playing slots so much, she burned through her retirement funds. >> my every thought and every being, if i wasn't at the casino, i was figuring out how i was going to get there, where was i going to get the money? >> you know, you sound like a heroin addict. >> it takes your soul. it takes your humanity. and you know that you're going down and you're going down and you're going down. i became--from a nice person, i became a manipulative, deceitful, lying person. >> lies just manufactured themselves. you didn't even have to think about it. >> marilyn lancelot, another slot addict, ended up embezzling over $1/4 million from her employer in phoenix, arizona. >> my daughters lived within two houses away. they did not know i was stealing money or gambling until one day, seven police cars drove into my yard and took me away in handcuffs. that's how they found out. >> handcuffs? >> yeah. >> this is gambling for gambling's sake.
and the aim is not to win a jackpot. >> she's not talking about most people who go to casinos. she's only taking about addicted gamblers. are you saying that they'd rather stay in the game than win the money? >> yeah, not only am i saying that, but i found instances where gamblers who won a jackpot then became irritated because it stopped the flow of play. >> researchers at the university of waterloo in canada measured how players respond physiologically while they gamble and showed that the new machines can make them think they're winning even when they're not. the gambler almost always gets some money back. if he puts in a dollar, he might get back 50¢. but the sounds and flickering lights trick his brain into thinking he came out ahead. the constant feeling of winning creates so much pleasure, says natasha schull, that regular players can slip into a trancelike state,
a place she calls "the zone." >> one gambler told me that when he's in the zone, he couldn't remember his children's name. >> you go into that trance, that zone, that box. nobody can touch you. you have escaped from reality. no one can ask you for anything. >> when you sat in front of those machines, did you get in the zone? did you have a buzz? >> i was having a love affair with that machine. it was the same as a kiss from a lover. >> really? >> it was sweet, sweet. [ticking] >> coming up: the gambling debate heats up. >> you're not getting it. those people would lose that money anyway. don't you understand? >> that's next when 60 minutes on cnbc returns.
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[ticking] >> playing slots is one of the most popular forms of gambling in the united states. it's claimed that new high-speed slot machines are fueling a gambling addiction. but not everyone is convinced, including howard shaffer. he's the director of the harvard medical school division on addiction and the man the gambling industry loves to quote. >> your position is, machines are not addictive, that machines, inanimate objects, are not addictive? >> machines didn't make me do it. if slot machines caused addiction, then most people who played slot machines would develop addiction. and it's the opposite. >> but at one point, you said slot machines were the crack cocaine of gambling. >> i did say that. >> and how does that square with what you're telling me today? >> not everybody who uses crack cocaine becomes addicted. >> yeah, but nobody's gonna sit here and try to tell me crack cocaine isn't addictive. and if this is like crack cocaine, the conclusion is that
it's addictive. >> i don't come to the same conclusion... >> how could you not? >> because the majority of people that have used cocaine have not developed cocaine addiction. only a small minority have. and the same would be true with gambling. >> the problem is that that small minority that does get addicted is hit hard. >> you are getting a little dose of gambling in your brain every three seconds. it's a gambling i.v., and there's a drip, drip, drip. >> doctors robert breen and henry lesieur are gambling addiction specialists at rhode island hospital. they've treated 1,300 slot addicts who, when they try to stop, look like heroin addicts in withdrawal. >> and they're coming in, and, quite literally, they have shakes. >> really? >> the cravings are-- they're physically having these responses. and you tell yourself, "they got to be on something." and it turns out that they're withdrawing from the gambling. >> slots in particular.
and yet state after state is turning to slots as an easy way to raise revenue and increase jobs. and no state has been more aggressive in luring gaming in the last few years than pennsylvania, where the opening of the sugarhouse in september 2010 made philadelphia the largest u.s. city to house a casino. former governor ed rendell has championed the casinos. >> look, gambling is not anything we should say, "oh, thank the lord. we have gambling." but it is a decent way to raise revenue where the upsides that's produced is significantly better than any downside that comes from it. >> you said there were downsides to gaming. what are they? >> the biggest downside is that some people lose their paychecks. but understand, lesley, they're not losing their paychecks because pennsylvania instituted gaming. those people were losing their paychecks in atlantic city, in delaware at the racetracks,
or in west virginia. >> "so why not lose it here?" is what you're saying. >> well, if they're gonna lose it anyway, let's get the upside. we were getting all the downside and none of the upside. >> the upside, he says, is the $1 billion the state got in gambling revenue in 2010, which was used to provide a $200-a-home property tax reduction plus more relief for senior citizens. >> people have been gambling since organized society was formed on the banks of the tigris and euphrates. they were gambling. and they will gamble as long as there is life on this planet. and that's a fact. >> no one's saying that people can't gamble. this is about government using gambling to prey on human weakness for profit. >> les bernal is head of the national organization stop predatory gambling. he and massachusetts state senator sue tucker have been fighting a move to bring casinos and slot parlors to the bay state. >> we're in the worst economic crisis since the great depression, and the daily voice of government to most americans is, "we're gonna push casinos, and we're gonna push lottery
tickets." >> well, but you have a situation where states are desperate. they're way over budget. they have to find revenue somewhere. they know people will gamble. >> as a revenue raiser, it defies every principle. it's regressive. in other words, it takes far more money out of lower-income people's pockets than higher-income. it is cannibalistic. in other words, it eats other forms of revenue. when you have your citizens dumping $2 billion down the slots, they're not buying a new car, and you lose that tax. >> you brought these casinos to this state. do you ever just say to yourself, "oh, my god, there are a lot of people who are suffering, and they're taking whatever money they have..." >> lesley, you don't listen. >> "and they're throwing it away in these casinos"? and do you ever just say, "oh, what have i done?" >> you don't listen. anyone who has that bent would be doing it in other places had pennsylvania not legalized gambling. >> the counterargument is that you're creating new gamblers
and lots of new gamblers. >> you're not creating new gamblers. >> well, 'cause it's down the street, by--i mean, just logically-- >> those people play the lottery. they bet on football. how much money is bet on the super bowl? >> people are losing money for the state to get its revenue. they're losing money. >> let me answer this. you have--i've always-- i've known you for two or three decades. you're a very smart person. >> but not now. >> but you're not getting it. >> i'm dumb now. >> you're not getting it. those people would lose that money anyway. don't you understand? >> our pressing him on this point led to this... >> you guys don't get that! you're simpletons. you're idiots if you don't get that. >> we couldn't figure out why all the emotion. but his main point was that gambling is good entertainment and people should be allowed to make their own decisions about it. but since the first casino opened in pennsylvania in 2006, calls to gambling casino hotlines in the state have tripled. sandi hall says her problems didn't start till three casinos
opened near her. >> i cannot read my local newspaper without having full-page ads of upcoming events and slot play and free this and free that. the exposure is phenomenal because of the proximity of three casinos. >> fewer than 25% of massachusetts residents went out of state to gamble. >> but that's a lot of people. >> 75% didn't. >> i know, but 25%. >> that's the group the industry wants. they want the 75% that can get on the "t" and go to a nearby casino and get in trouble with gambling. that's the playbook. >> the long-running massachusetts casino debate came to a close on november 22, 2011, when governor deval patrick signed into law a bill allowing casino gambling in the bay state. the new law allows for construction of three casinos in separate regions of massachusetts. echoing many other governors around the country, governor patrick says that the new casinos will put people to work
and strengthen the massachusetts economy. well, that's our edition of 60 minutes on cnbc. i'm steve kroft. thanks for joining us. >> narrator: in this episode of "american greed"... meet the organized-crime gang bent on bringing down the house. they are the tran family, one of america's most successful rings of casino-gambling cheaters, winning hand after hand. >> many times, $30,000 to $90,000 a day going out of this casino. >> narrator: they use one of the oldest tricks in the book... >> it looks as though the cards may have been mixed. the cards were not. >> narrator: ...with a high-tech twist. >> the person is speaking into a microphone that has been wrapped around their neck. and what that person's communicating is the order of cards. >> narrator: and at each casino they hit, corrupted dealers are