Casinos as the Bleak New Senior Citizen Center
Are we turning a blind eye to a government-sponsored movement that creates false community, drains money, and undermines dignity for those most vulnerable among us?
As with many adventures, I didn’t realize I was on one until I was deep in the belly of a southern Louisiana casino where 35 cent bets flowed faster than the free Diet Coke. My elbow rested on the walker of an elderly gentleman who was teaching me slots. He worried I was going to waste all my money. I appreciated his grandfatherly concern even as I struggled not to ask him, “Is this really a responsible thing to do?”
As a hospice professional and pastor, I realize the importance of communities encouraging active lifestyles among the elderly. By 2030, over 20% of our US population will be over 65. Caregivers, churches, and governments will be looking for recreational outlets that offer community and fun while honoring the independence and dignity of older Americans. Half of all adult visitors to casinos last year aged 50 and older, so I decided to observe the American Gaming Association’s (AGA) “Responsible Gaming Education Week” — which is held annually since 1998 in the first week of August — by asking: do casinos do justice to our seniors? What does it mean for anyone, much less vulnerable aging people, to gamble “responsibly”?
In an oft-quoted AGA survey from 2002 , the Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc., and The Luntz Research Companies report that 62 percent of seniors see casinos as merely an inexpensive day out for someone on a fixed income. They argue that “90% of seniors don’t want someone telling them how to spend their time or money” and that “senior citizens believe gambling is a question of personal freedom…[that] they should be able to go into a casino, have their own budget, and spend their disposable income the way they want.” The AGA uses their annual “Responsible Gambling Education Week” to suggest that pathological gambling is rare. But reading between the lines of the “educational” factoids and pop quizzes they offer it is easy to see the real message: there is NO such thing as luck. The longer and faster you play any “game,” the more money the house guarantees you will lose.