Addicted to chance

If it’s the entertainment side of the casino you like, you aren’t in danger of becoming addicted. But as soon as you talk about “the rush” of the game or the lure of “winning big” you’re on slippery ground, studies say.

A report by the National Council of Welfare indicates gambling problems are most likely to occur in single men under the age of 30. However, in Ontario, there is some sign that seniors may be more susceptible to gambling addiction. Ontario statistics show pathological (compulsive) gambling tendencies in two age groups: those aged 18 to 44 and those between 65 and 74.

The Canadian Foundation on Compulsive Gambling suggests nearly eight per cent of the adult population in Ontario has a gambling problem. Problem gamblers may have a few bad gambling habits and typically say things like: “I spent more money than I originally intended.”

Not all problem gamblers become compulsive, or pathological, gamblers. Pathological gambling is described as a progressive and eventually overwhelming urge to engage in gambling behaviour; an urge the gambler at first fails to resist and later find unable to resist. In Ontario, 0.9 per cent of the adult population are nsidered pathological gamblers.

Rupcich advises seniors to watch out for certain warning signs. “If you’re being deceitful about where you’re going, you’re in trouble,” he says. “If you’re just going to the casino for fun, you shouldn’t have any problem telling people.”

If you have to borrow money to gamble, then gambling is no longer entertainment or recreation. “You wouldn’t borrow money to play a game of golf,” he says. As well, if you find your spending limit has jumped from $50 to $200, something is wrong. Having a disregard for losses is also a warning sign.

When it comes to gambling, seniors are a particularly vulnerable group as they are more likely to be dealing with a tremendous amount of change and loss. Typically, 11 per cent of the clients referred to the Canadian Foundation on Compulsive Gambling are over 55 years of age, Rupcich says.

If they’ve just retired, they may feel bored, or unimportant. If they’ve lost a spouse or moved away from the family home, they’ll feel lonely and cut off from society. They may feel anxious about their health and their ability to stay independent. The gambling casino is an antidote to the gloom.

“It fills a void in seniors’ lives,” says Mary Ann Beck, of the McKellar Seniors group. “One couple told me, ‘Thank God for the casino, we have a place to go.’ “

Therein lies the lure of the casino. It is a veritable pleasure palace, where smiling hosts bring you free cups of coffee and soft drinks; where every surface of the luxurious washrooms is covered with polished marble; where meals are free to the tour bus crowd; where the noise of the machines is like a million piano players tuning up in the wrong key.

It sure beats sitting alone on your porch in downtown McKellar, a small community with a gas station, general store and hardware outlet. “The McKellar group likes the trip,” Beck says. “It’s a diversion. Some people wouldn’t get out otherwise.” They get the bus trip down and back, the day’s excitement and a free meal – all for $15. “That’s not a bad deal,” says Beck.

Jim Mundy, a director of corporate communications at Casino Windsor, says seniors are tired of passive entertainment options such as going to a movie or the theatre. They’re looking for something they can participate in.

“The casino is exciting and fun. It’s a happening place on a Monday morning.”

At Casino Windsor people can join the Seniors Club, which includes breakfast. “All bus tours get a free lunch,” says Mundy. They can have that meal at the casino itself, or in one of the restaurants in downtown Windsor.

Like the airlines, the casinos have frequent player cards that allow you to accumulate points, which earn you complimentary meals, complimentary hotel rooms or, in Casino Windsor, cash back. The Windsor casino also has wheelchair accessible gaming tables and slot machines that pay out an average of $10 million a day. “Most people go to have a good time and they leave with a smile on their face,” Mundy says.

For anti-gambling proponents like Boyce, the rush of seniors to casinos defies understanding and points to a deeper problem: “It’s a sad reflection on our society. You have to ask what is making life meaningful for these people?” In her parents’ day, people of this age group were drawn to the church hall, where they played crokinole and bridge.

As Beck says, no one is forcing them to gamble. Some of her group go to watch the action. The casino staff make a fuss over them. Which doesn’t mean she’d like to see a casino in McKellar any time soon. “I like to keep temptation at bay,” she says.