Researchers at Yale University have found that older gamblers are healthier than their younger counterparts, who have higher rates of alcohol and substance abuse, bankruptcy, depression and incarceration.
The reason may have nothing to do with the relative health benefits of a slot machine, instant lottery ticket or bingo game, however.
“Older folks who are getting out into the community and remaining active … are healthier and tend to stay healthy,” said Rani A. Desai, associate professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine. “You cannot conclude out of this research that gambling makes you healthy. What you can conclude is that (older) gamblers are healthier.”
Still, the Yale researchers noted that for people 65 and older, “recreational gambling … may even possibly provide some beneficial effect.” Gambling, they found, “may allow for increased socialization, community activity and travel, which may in turn be reflected in more positive ratings of health.”
The study was reported in this month’s issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry. It consisted of nationwide telephone interviews of 2,417 adults and compared the health of older and younger adults who had gambled in the last year with those who had not.
Desai and her colleagues said more research needs to be done into the impact of the rapid expansion of casinos, slot machines and lotteries across much of the United States.
“It raises more questions than it answers,” said Marc Potenza, senior author of the study and co-editor of a recently published book, “Pathological Gambling: A Clinical Guide to Treatment.”
“Gambling is a behavior in which a majority of adults participate,” Potenza said. “Understanding the impact of gambling in older adults we thought was something that warranted more investigation. We are not looking at this from a pro- or anti-gambling view.”
Marvin Steinberg, executive director of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, said the study found that among people between 18 and 64, almost 2.5 percent said they had experienced pathological or problem gambling. The gambling industry frequently says this number could be 1 percent or less.
In the study, recreational gamblers were defined as people who gambled five or more times in a year. The study found that among the older gamblers, nearly four in 10 took part in the activity daily or at least once a week. Most preferred “non-strategic” gambling, such as the lottery or slot machines.
“It would be a mistake for anybody to think that there are not dangers in taking part in high-risk gambling” such as slot machines and the state lottery, said Christopher Armentano, director of problem gambling services in the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. “It’s important to know what the consequences of gambling are for recreational gamblers.”
Tom Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, said the Yale research was another example of industry-funded “junk science.” Increasingly, he said, gambling researchers are coming up with results that the industry wants to hear.
“Instead of a serious look at the epidemic of pathological gambling, we are getting into research being done to extol its virtues,” Grey said.
The Yale study was paid for in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, the National Center for Responsible Gaming and Women’s Health Research at Yale. The National Center for Responsible Gaming is funded by the casino industry.