Vol. 9 No. 2 P. 18 – Buses of elders commute daily to the casinos. For some, its harmless fun, for others, it’s an invitation for trouble. For many decades, the stereotype concept of what a gambler looked like has been dominated by images culled from films and TV! The swaggering tough guy in a tuxedo at the blackjack table, the middle aged man with a cigar in his mouth at the racetrack. As gambling became more accessible and acceptable in our culture, our consciousness of who gamblers certainly are has also broadened to include old and young alike. A 2008 study conducted at Wayne State University analyzing the motivations among older adults to participate in casino gambling reveals that they gamble for both extrinsic and numerous reasons.
While numerous reasons include winning money and supplementing income, numerous reasons include amusement, being around other individuals, distraction from everyday problems like loneliness and boredom, and escaping emotions of grief and loss associated with the death of a cherished one or close friend. Individuals are more inclined to develop a gambling problem when they are coping with major life changes or losses. The sudden social isolation that may come with retirement, the increased consciousness of physical constraints that accompany aging, and the grief after the death of family members represents an overwhelming number of difficult life transitions that make older adults especially susceptible to developing gambling problems.
She’s also intrigued in older women with and without disability who gamble and how gambling addiction is associated with some other mental wellness and substance use disorders among older Americans. Martin first became intrigued in problem gambling among older adults in 2004 during her postdoctoral work, that has been funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. What surprised Martin wasn’t just how many older adults have an addictive relationship with gambling, but the extent to which the gambling industry seems to enable the problem. During my research and visits to the casinos, I noticed that the casino has been providing older adults with scooters and wheelchairs, Martin recalls.
Many even provided oxygen. Older adults told me tales of how a casinos always remember their birthday, and if they stayed away too long, the casino could send them a card saying that they had been missed. Obviously, casinos aren’t the only companies that make a conscious effort to promote gambling to elders. Today, older adults can find ample chances to gamble in senior centers and retirement homes where bingo nights and poker clubs are frequently part of standard activities. While gambling’s temptation may have a strong effect, gambling alone does not draw older adults into the casinos, just like some other addictive behaviors, the social experience can exert an equally strong attraction. Lia Nower, JD, PhD, an associate professor and the director of the Center for Gaming Studies at the School of Social Work at Rutgers University in NJ, points out how shame isn’t the only motivating factor for older adults who conceal their gambling problem.