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Archive for Sunday, August 5, 2001

Senior care providers have stake in prohibiting gambling

August 5, 2001

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— The last time casino promoters approached the Joslyn Senior Center with coupons for the elderly, director Michael Barnard greeted them with a new rule: He would only accept discounts for meals, not gambling.

Local casinos also have offered to send buses to and from the center once a week. Barnard has said no thanks.

And just a few weeks ago, for the first time, the center hosted a seminar filled with tales of retirees who squandered their savings on slot machines.

"This issue is coming to the forefront," Barnard said, "so we're getting more aggressive."

In retirement havens and casino capitals around the country, senior care providers and community groups have begun taking tougher stands against a problem they say is becoming ever more serious: elderly gambling addiction.

Some are urging casinos, which relentlessly court retirees, to back off. Others are waging new campaigns to warn seniors of the perils of excessive gambling. And all are worried that they are only at the beginning of what could be a difficult struggle as the giant baby-boom generation grays and casinos keep opening.

In California, where the elderly population is expected to double to nearly 7 million in the next two decades, counselors on problem gambling are touring the many retirement communities with films and lectures on gambling addiction. Tribal casinos are expanding to the point that soon California may have more slot machines than any state except Nevada.

In Arizona, where tribal casinos also are flourishing, a nonprofit group on problem gambling is meeting with leaders of senior centers. The group also is asking centers to put place mats on their lunch tables containing tips on responsible gambling.

In New Jersey, where buses unload thousands of retirees every day on the casino strip in Atlantic City, groups are going to churches and other civic gatherings to tell adult children of elderly gamblers about the dangers the pastime poses to their parents.

And in Florida last month, specialists in problem gambling came from across the country to begin developing a think tank devoted to examining elderly addiction.

"We used to focus only on addictions to alcohol or medication, but now we're looking closely at gambling," said Michelle Rainier, a director of the Office on Aging in California's Riverside County, which held its first conference on the issue this spring. "But it's going to be hard to intervene and slow this down. There's a lot of denial out there among seniors."

A national survey of senior citizens two years ago found that about half of them had gambled "recently." That figure, according to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, is twice as high as it was a generation ago, when hardly any states had any form of legalized gambling. Today, nearly every state does.

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