Busloads of elders commute daily to the casinos. For many decades, the stereotypical concept of what a gambler looked like has been dominated by images culled from movies and television: the swaggering tough guy in a tuxedo at the blackjack table, the middle-aged man with a cigar in his mouth beat the racetrack pdf the racetrack. As gambling has become more accessible and acceptable in our culture, our awareness of who gamblers really are has also broadened to include young and old alike.
A 2008 study conducted at Wayne State University examining the motivations among older adults for participating in casino gambling reveals that they gamble for both extrinsic and intrinsic reasons. People are more likely to develop a gambling problem when they’re coping with major life changes or losses. The sudden social isolation that can come with retirement, the increased awareness of physical limitations that accompany aging, and the grief after the death of loved ones constitutes an overwhelming number of difficult life transitions that make older adults particularly vulnerable to developing gambling problems. Fayetta Martin, MLS, MSW, DL, is an assistant professor at Wayne State University whose current research focuses on women’s gambling behavior and treatment barriers for older women with disabilities. She is also interested in older women with and without disabilities who gamble and how gambling addiction is associated with other mental health and substance use disorders among older Americans. Martin first became interested in problem gambling among older adults in 2004 during her postdoctoral work, which was 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 was not merely how many older adults have an addictive relationship with gambling but the extent to which the gambling industry appeared to enable the problem. In the bathroom, there were boxes for diabetics to dispose needles. Older adults told me stories of how the casinos always remember their birthday, and if they stayed away too long, the casino would send them a card saying that they were missed. Of course, casinos are not the only businesses that make a conscious effort to market gambling to elders. Today, older adults can find plentiful opportunities to gamble in senior centers and retirement homes where bingo nights and poker clubs are often part of standard activities.
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Lia Nower, JD, PhD, an associate professor and the director of the Center for Gambling Studies at the School of Social Work at Rutgers University in New Jersey, points out how shame is not the only motivating factor for older adults who hide their gambling problem. Nower describes a phenomenon that may also attract older adults to gambling. This is something that’s been said to me by a lot of treatment providers who specialize in older adults, that they are not as preoccupied with their physical discomfort when their minds are disengaged that way. Just this past weekend I was at the MGM in Detroit counting the number of people who appeared to be over 60 who were on the slot machines at 2 in the morning. I would say five out of 10 were older adults, mostly women. One lady who was in a wheelchair told me that the casino for her was a safe place, and when she was at the casino, nobody noticed the fact that she was in a wheelchair. In some ways, the risks of problem gambling for older adults are the same as those faced by younger gamblers—a sudden, devastating loss of financial security and accompanying legal troubles.