Casinos prey on seniors

February 23, 2014 8:36 am

The fastest group of gamblers are seniors, one study shows. The aging population and growth in casinos in states across the country is a particularly toxic combination. Seniors have time. Many seniors have money to spend or are on fixed incomes and need cash to pay bills. Both options appeal to casino operators as this piece details.

The casinos target and market to seniors. The casinos cater to seniors and help them pass their days with free rides, cheap meals and drinks.

The upshot is a growing population of elderly who are hooked on gambling, as Amy Ziettlow details in her new report, “Seniors in Casino Land: Tough Luck for Older Americans.” Ziettlow will be speaking about her report this week at Stetson University in Florida.

The Sunshine State is considering whether to legalize commercial casinos. The prospect of more gambling would be particularly harmful in Florida, which has the largest elderly population in the country. Ziettlow details some of those issues in her compelling essay in The Tampa Tribune. Read it here.

A Dirty Secret: Suicides at casinos

February 8, 2014 4:07 pm

A 39-year-old man jumped to his death at Genting’s slots casino in Queens, N.Y., the New York Post reported.

Sadly, suicides related to a gambling problem are not unusual. But the Post story claims – emphasis on claims – that the gambler was on a winning streak. “He was not in the hole,” the source told the tabloid newspaper. “Actually, he was up.”

First of all, it defies logic that a person would go on a winning streak and then jump 30 feet to their death in the middle of the casino. But even if true, the fact that casino sources felt the need to make clear that the gambler was “up” underscores the reality that gambling addiction can cause people to kill themselves. The reporting in this incident also underscores how the casinos and police often conspire to soften or even cover up suicides at casinos. (Getting assigned to a casino is considered a cushy assignment for police, who get to know workers and gamblers.)

Despite those efforts, there is no denying the link between gambling and suicide. In fact, Las Vegas – the biggest casino outpost in the country – is considered the suicide capital of America. But as more states legalize casinos, more and more gamblers are committing suicide across the country.

Just consider: In Gulfport, Mississippi, suicides skyrocketed 213 percent in the first two years the casino there opened. In Biloxi, suicides increased 1,000 percent in the first four years, according to this report. Indeed, the National Council on Problem Gambling, citing various studies, reports that 20 percent of pathological gamblers attempt suicide — a rate higher than for any other addictive disorder. The New York Times reported way back in 1997 that the rise in gambling matched an increase in suicides.

Read this sad story from a mother whose son had a gambling problem and ultimately killed himself. Here is just a random sampling of other casino-related suicides:

* Earlier this week, a Louisiana police chief shot himself in the head at a casino in Biloxi, Miss.

* In October, a 19-year-old committed suicide by jumping from the parking garage at the Showboat Casino in Atlantic City. (Read more here.)

* In 2013, an Illinois mother of three killed herself after her gambling addiction was exposed.

* In 2013, a woman jumped from the parking garage of a casino in Detroit. The police did not release her name let alone details as to the cause.

* In 2012, a man shot a killed a woman and then killed himself at a Las Vegas casino.

* In 2012, a woman jumped from the parking garage at a casino in Indiana. Again, ploice did not release any details as to the cause.

* In 2011, a 21-year-old Pennsylvania man killed himself by driving his car off the top of the parking garage at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem. (Read more here.)

* In 2009, a man shot a casino worker in Atlantic City and planned to kill himself but was stopped by police. He had a suicide note on him.

* In 2005, a 23-year-old gambler shot himself in the mouth at a casino in Illinois after losing $900 in less than 15 minutes playing blackjack. (Read more here.)

* In 2000, an off-duty police officer who lost more than $15,000 at a casino in Detroit pulled out his service revolver and shot himself in the head. (Read more here.)

* In 1999, a string of three suicides in eight days at casinos in Atlantic City prompted The New York Times to detail how such killings are regular worry at casinos.

Beyond suicides, the stress of gambling losses leads people to smash slot machines in anger as The New York Times detailed here. The slot smashings took place at the same Genting casino in Queens where the gambler committed suicide.

New Hampshire cuts through casino “smooth talk”

February 7, 2014 8:56 am

New Hampshire not only has the best state motto, it also appears to have the most common sense when it comes to casinos.

Of all the states that have wrestled with legalizing casinos, New Hampshire’s elected officials and residents are the most engaged on the issue. They have looked at the costs and benefits of gambling. They have done independent studies that show casinos are a net negative. And they have discussed and debated the issue.

Each time, New Hampshire has rejected the empty promises of casinos. But the casino industry does not take no for an answer, as the Seacoast newspaper detailed here. They keep the lobbyists and campaign contributions coming until they win over enough elected officials.

Indeed, the casino industry has finally found a friend in New Hampshire, in Gov. Maggie Hassan. Gov. Hassan is leading the charge to legalize one casino in New Hampshire. But New Hampshire remains skeptical. Conservative and liberal newspapers across the Granite State have consistently dismantled the bogus claims made about casino benefits.

For example, The Union Leader understands that casinos are not economic development engines, but instead siphon money from the economy. The Concord Monitor cut through the rhetoric in an excellent editorial that warns residents and lawmakers not to fall for the “smooth talk” of casinos.

“New Hampshire shouldn’t finance its government by preying on people who lose their shirts at a casino,” The Monitor wrote. “Residents shouldn’t trust lawmakers to support gambling addiction services – New Hampshire’s track record on helping those addicted to drugs, alcohol and tobacco is abysmal; there’s no reason to believe this would be different. Existing businesses shouldn’t be victimized by the state’s grab for money.

“As parents all over New Hampshire tell their kids every day: Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it right.”

The last line is a dig at the other states, especially neighboring Massachusetts, that are rushing over the casino cliff. New Hampshire is surrounded by states that are pushing more and more gambling on residents. If New Hampshire holds out, history will show it was the state that was able to keep its head while others were falling for casinos.

Mickey Mouse .vs Sheldon Adelson

February 6, 2014 11:19 am

Here is a heavyweight fight worth watching.

In the effort to legalize casinos in Florida, Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson and other casino operators have hired more than 100 lobbyists to influence lawmakers in Tallahassee. On the other side of the fight is the Walt Disney Co., which opposes casinos in the Sunshine State.

The Boston Globe reports the army of lobbyists and campaign contributions are pouring into Florida. The big spending is a sign of the high stakes in Florida. It also underscores how the gambling industry drives and influences public policy when it comes to casinos. It is not as if there is a grassroots push by residents begging their elected officials for more places to gamble.

Lobbyists for casino operators say an expansion will bring jobs and tourists and boost the economy, according to The Globe. Disney believes gambling would hurt the state and undermine the family-friendly theme it has tried to build over the years.

‘‘The massive expansion of gambling that would come from legalizing mega-casinos would be a bad bet for Florida’s taxpayers, tourism brand and existing businesses,’’ Andrea Finger, a Disney spokeswoman, told The Globe.

Here is my recent op-ed in The Tampa Bay Times on the casino issue in Florida.