Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Amy Ziettlow (Affiliate Scholar at Institute for American Values) recently published an article entitled, Seniors in Casino Land Tough Luck for Older Americans, (2014). Provided below is the introduction to the article:
As with many adventures, I didn’t know I was on one until I was deep in the belly of a south Louisiana casino where thirty-five-cent bets flowed faster than the free Diet Coke. My elbow rested on the walker of a silver-haired gentleman as I craned my neck to hear him over the sounds of the Lucky 7s slot machine. He worried I was going to waste all my money, and I thanked him for his grandfatherly concern. As our attention returned to the screens before us, we sank into silence, enveloped in waves of pulsating sound and light.
As a parish pastor and a hospice chaplain, connecting to the lives of older Americans had led me to kitchen tables, hospital bedsides, and even prisons. I am no stranger to those literally facing death or to those thinking about how deadly their lives have become. In every place, my role is not to give answers but to listen and help those around me find sources of hope in the midst of despair. My work often serves the most vulnerable populations, especially seniors, and has resulted in my fervent belief that everyone deserves to age with dignity and grace on their own terms, connected to places that give their lives meaning: homes, neighborhoods, favorite restaurants, places of worship, local parks, even shopping centers.
Should casinos be added to this list? I had never thought much about casinos, in part because frequenting one never appealed to me personally. As a pastor, I had heard passing mention of bus trips to the casino, but when I started doing some research into the topic, I was shocked to learn that seniors often name gambling as their favorite form of entertainment.1 According to the American Gaming Association’s State of the States annual report, casino gambling has become one of the country’s fastest growing industries: commercial casinos in the twenty-three states that license them earned more than $37 billion in gross gaming revenue in 2012 alone. 2 One-third of the U.S population visited a commercial casino in 2012 and more than half of those people were aged fifty and older.3 Little research was done on trends in geriatric gambling until the late 1990s, when the National Gambling Impact Study Commission reported that the number of older adults who had ever gambled in their lifetime had more than doubled from 35 percent in 1975 to 80 percent in 1998. 4 A flurry of studies soon followed, focused mostly on compulsive and problem gambling.
When I did a search engine query for “seniors and casinos” on the Internet, I found that almost every casino website offers special marketing incentives and identifiers for the over-fifty-five crowd.5 Some promote breakfast and lunch deals for the “golden grays,”6 and dub the niche market of senior women “the blue hairs.”7 The “third of the month club” is a come-on for older adults who head straight to casinos after receiving their social security checks.8 Well-stocked with wheelchairs and scooters, casinos often provide more handicapped spots than are required by law. Casino bathrooms are supplied with disposal boxes for diabetic needles and attendants keep a stash of adult diapers on hand.9 One casino in Nevada even introduced an in-house pharmacy where 8,000 slot club points cover the $25 co-pay.10 Writing about casinos, Gary Rivlin coined the phrase “day care for the elderly,”11 a description that quickly caught on with other journalists.
Could this be true? Is fifty-five considered elderly? If so, are casinos becoming day care for the fifty-five and older set? Both the casino industry’s definition of elderly and the concept of casino-as-day-care offended me. Still, I had to admit, I had never been to a casino, let alone in the middle of a weekday when most seniors visit.12 My IAV colleagues encouraged me to find out—to visit casinos, eat at the buffets, play the slot machines, and talk to as many seniors as I could—so I checked out local casinos in four different communities: on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, in the farm country of northwest Iowa, and two big city venues in Yonkers and Queens, New York. I met gracious seniors at every turn, most well past their fifty-fifth birthday, many with mobility and health challenges, all looking for a meaningful way to pass the time. They told me about their lives and helped me to understand what drew them to the casino.
Special thanks to Naomi Cahn (John Theodore Fey Research Professor of Law, George Washington University School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.