Tuesday, 15 July 2014
Casinos: The New Senior Centers
By Diane Davis
Seniors are one of the fastest growing groups of compulsive gamblers. Why? Here’s how it worked for me when I had a gambling problem.
Radio blaring, I drove fast and reckless to the casino 12 minutes from my house. For a brief interlude, this 70-year-old woman was not a responsible professor who had papers to grade or a lonely woman with a trail of broken relationships or a daughter whose mother was dying.
I was free of all that, invisible in faded jeans and a sweatshirt. No one knew my name or cared about my reputation or responsibilities. I felt young and carefree and entitled to a night out. I had worked hard and had made an independent life all on my own that looked pretty good on the outside. I deserved a break.
I impatiently found a parking place, made my way inside the casino and plunked myself down in front of a favorite machine with a “free” coke. There were nights when that free coke cost me as much as $5000. It had gone on like this for 15 years.
Most people think gamblers are gambling to get the big win. That may be true in the beginning but as the gambling continues, winning becomes just a means of prolonging the game.
About two to three minutes into my play on a slot machine, the “I” that was aware of time, the value of money, my responsibilities to others, my integrity and any worries I had, simply disappeared. Instead, my world became cosmically timeless, full of hope each time I hit the button.
The more money I put into a slot machine, the more I was focused on the possibilities it offered. All I had to do was keep putting money into the machine - the price I gladly paid for predictably reaching the altered state of euphoric anticipation.
Seniors face many difficult losses that increase vulnerability for gambling problems. Events like retirement, the death of a spouse or parent, divorce, income loss, impaired health and distance (emotional or physical) from loved ones, require major coping skills and support systems. Many times those are lacking, especially for seniors living alone. The casino industry offers quick relief to folks like me who struggled to cope with loss after loss.
It is good business practice for casinos to be safe and accessible to seniors. Parking lots are fully lighted and secure. Walkers or wheel chairs are provided. Free turkeys and free meals are offered. Buses are available to pick up customers from retirement homes.
There are lots of people around to cater to you and bring you free drinks. If any kind of problem arises, security people are there in an instant. The drinks lady knows your first name. The tinkling of the slot machines and the background of people talking and 60s music can feel very comforting.
The hidden truth is that casino profits (experts estimate 30%-60%) come from problem gamblers and many of those gamblers are seniors. Visit any casino during the day or night and count the gray heads.
My way out of the hypnotic lure of casinos is not particularly recommended by Gamblers Anonymous (GA) or gambling addiction treatment programs. I took the “geographical cure.”
After years of periodically trying GA and even an out-patient treatment program, I could still not put together more than a few months of abstinence. As long as I had money, a good job and my kids didn’t know how much I was gambling, I couldn’t resist the guaranteed emotional relief I found at the casino.
Finally, my kids did find out and confronted me. It was devastating. In desperation, I took the big leap of moving across country to the state where all my kids and grandkids live. Lucky for me, the nearest casino is five hours away which gives me the time I need to think through and reject the impulse to gamble.
So far, having breathing space and family close by has enabled me to take back my life.
Research from the Housing First! movement that works with people who are homeless and alcoholic concludes that a decent place to live is the precursor to sobriety, not the other way around. Likewise, in my long way home, I learned that paying attention to my sore spot of loneliness and taking me out of immediate harm’s way was the winning ticket for a life without problem gambling.
[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]