Guy W. Farmer: Many seniors are addicted to gambling

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal

The February issue of AARP magazine had an article about the prevalence of problem gambling among senior citizens, an addiction that afflicts too many Nevada seniors. The article, titled “Losing Everything to Gambling Addiction,” asserted that many older Americans are jeopardizing their health because of problem gambling.

Casino advertising on TV always shows deliriously happy young people celebrating their latest jackpots. All of these beautiful young folks are grinning like idiots as they invite the rest of us to come on in and share the payouts. But the reality is far different.

Just stroll through and tell me how many happy young people you see sitting in front of slot machines. The reality is that most local casino patrons look like me — senior citizens grimly punching buttons in hopes of a big payout. Unfortunately, too many of them are problem gamblers, and that’s the point of the AARP article I cited.

The article’s authors, Peter Jaret and Bill Hogan, used 60-something former San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor to illustrate their point. “It (her gambling addiction) was like electronic heroin,” O’Connor told Jaret and Hogan. “You know, the more you did, the more you needed — and the more it wasn’t satisfied.”

“O’Connor’s addiction to video poker was all-consuming,” the article continued. “In nine years she placed more than $1 billion in bets at casinos in San Diego, Las Vegas and Atlantic City.” In casino parlance she was a “whale,” an ultra-high roller who merited unlimited credit and private jets. Ultimately, she owed more than $13 million to casinos and her world collapsed around her. Under a deferred prosecution agreement, she avoided prison by promising to undergo treatment for problem gambling, repaying more than $3 million she stole from a charitable foundation established by her late husband and paying the taxes associated with her misappropriation of foundation funds.

That’s only one example of how problem gambling can ruin lives, especially among bored and/or lonely seniors who turn to casinos for companionship and entertainment. Of course, the casinos always assure us that we’ll be among friends while we gamble our Social Security checks at their “friendly” slots and tables.

According to AARP magazine, the number of casinos has exploded over the past few decades. In the 1960s only Nevada and Atlantic City had casino gambling, but today hundreds of casinos — many of them operated by Indian tribes — exist in more than 30 states. Indian gaming is particularly pernicious because, like Internet gaming, it’s mostly unregulated.

“It’s easy to understand why (the casinos) are a big draw,” University of Chicago behavioral psychologist Dr. Jon Grant told the magazine. “Casinos are full of sights and sounds where older people can feel safe ... (and) you can go in any kind of weather.”

“About 40 percent of the people we see are over 50,” said Robert Hunter, who directs the Las Vegas Problem Gambling Center. “Many of them are people who got into trouble by moving to a place where casinos are a big part of social life.” Dr. Donald Black of the University of Iowa, an expert on problem gambling, added that chronic health conditions are frequently linked to gambling addiction. Which is why I offer a word of advice: Don’t gamble more than you can afford.

Guy W. Farmer worked for Nevada’s gaming-control agencies in the 1960s.


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