This story has been bouncing around for a few days, and even made the CNN Headline News ticker. According to a Yale University study, older people who gamble are actually healthier than those who don’t. From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
The findings are not rock-solid. They’re only based on telephone interviews, but the results are the opposite of what researchers expected. The survey showed that recreational gamblers 65 and older reported being in better health than their peers who don’t gamble. The older gamblers also reported less alcoholism, depression, bankruptcy and imprisonment than younger recreational gamblers, Yale epidemiologist Rani Desai said.
Desai cautioned that more study is needed to conclude that gambling can be a healthy venture, and those who help gambling addicts are skeptical.
But the social aspects of gambling – whether it’s slot machines at a casino, poker games with friends or bingo at a church hall – may be an explanation for how the study turned out, Desai said.
“There’s this whole concept of healthy aging – that folks who continue to remain engaged in activity, especially in the community and in social activities, stay healthier longer, so I think this is a reflection of that. It’s not that gambling makes you healthy, it’s that gamblers are healthier,” Desai said.
Some psychologists question the findings.
“It may get them out, but the socialization isn’t that much because they sit in front of machines, interacting with them,” said psychologist Elizabeth Sterling of Santa Fe, N.M., who counsels gambling addicts. “I guess if you can keep it at a limit – spend $20 and go once a week – there’s no harm to it, but a benefit I can’t see.”
Desai started the study with the idea that health problems already well documented among all gamblers might be more pronounced in gamblers over 65. Any losses would presumably hit older people harder, since most are on fixed incomes.
Also, the gambling industry tries to attract older people with freebies and trips, and even provide needle disposals for diabetics in the restrooms and heart defibrillators on the casino floor.
Gambling linked to good health in elderly
This is a fun story from so many angles. First, allow me a word on the last line in the excerpt above: are cardiac defibrillators really a “freebie” that casinos advertise? I can just picture the thought process: “I’ve been having chest pains all day…I know, I’ll go to the casino and gamble. If I go into complete cardiac arrest, they can revive me for free!”
Second, I inwardly shudder at the thought that the people I see in casinos are healthier than those who aren’t there. Have you looked around a casino floor lately? It’s not like it’s filled with ironman triathletes in peak condition. I have actually had visitors from other countries express to me their shock and disgust at the prevalence of the pale and the flabby in Las Vegas casinos. And these are the healthy ones?
Third, an amusing personal anecdote from my days as a casino security officer. One day, while patrolling a slot zone, I came upon an elderly woman breathing from an oxygen tank. That’s no surprise–I can almost guarantee some on oxygen in any sizable casino, everyday. What gave me pause was the fact that she was smoking a cigarette. Pure oxygen does up the nose, smoke goes down the throat. Sounds good to me!
That’s the sad part–that someone who needs help breathing is so addicted to nicotine she still smokes. The amusing part came when I evinced some concern over the proximity of the cigarette to pure oxygen (or nearly pure oxygen–I don’t know what the concentration is). When I suggested to some of my colleagues that this might present a fire and safety risk, they literally said I was stupid–cigarettes can’t start fires.
“But,” I said, “Isn’t oxygen highly flammable?”
“No, it isn’t.” Was the reply. So it went no further.
Now I don’t know whether there’s conclusive evidence that someone smoking a lit cigarette while hooked up to an oxygen tank presents an elevated fire risk, but based on third-grade science, I think it’s possible that there might be something there.
Anyway, someone’ll probably do a re-study of this, but until then, science says that gambling might be good for your health. Or does it?