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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Feeling lucky? Gambling industry bets on boomers

Aug 23, 2021 02:53PM ● By Michael Murphy
Row of slot machines in a casino

Walk into any Las Vegas casino during the breakfast buffet and you’ll find the longest lines are folks waiting to fill their bowls with oatmeal. Why? Because, according to the gambling industry’s most recent data, half of all adult visitors to casinos are aged 50 and older.

Seniors are the fastest-growing population of gamblers. A recent poll found that 70 percent of seniors had gambled in the last year!

Even more of a surprise was another recent study which discovered that the favorite social activity for people over 65 was gambling. It ranked higher than eating out, shopping, movies and golf. 

Of course, the casino industry is aware of this boomer betting bounce and is doing everything it can to encourage it. They’ve marketed incentive programs and clever advertising aimed at seniors whose IRAs, Social Security checks and grandchildren’s education funds are burning a hole in their pockets.

Buffet discounts, free lunch coupons, drug discounts, scooters and wheelchairs, shuttle buses to and from retirement centers, and friendly “We miss you” reminders make up some of the gambling industry’s PR ploys. It comes as no surprise, then, that there’s a strong senior influence on casinos’ live entertainment. It’s not just the omnipresent Elvis impersonators performing throughout the Vegas strip. There also seems to be a tribute band for every classic-rock act from Foreigner to Fleetwood Mac playing in the lounges. 

And, yes, Wayne Newton is still performing in Vegas. However, if you want to see him, I suggest you hurry since his current show at the Tropicana has the rather ominous title “Once Before I Go.”

Why gambling?


Why this upsurge in senior gambling? What is it that causes baby boomers to be so enthralled by a “Wonky Wabbits” slot machine that they’ll sit and stare at carrot and eggplant images spinning around for hours? The theories range from concerning to uplifting.

One explanation for the senior surge at slot machines is older folks are vulnerable to gambling’s addictiveness due to chemical changes taking place in their brains. Some pundits go so far as to suggest that the senior gambling compulsion is a sign of dementia. 

In truth, there are stories of seniors blowing all their life savings and putting themselves at financial risk. Obviously, throwing away money needed for medicine and food to play “Slotmania” is a bad idea. 

 Other explanations for boomers’ interest in casino gambling include lots of time to kill, physical or emotional pain to relieve, and just plain old loneliness—especially for women, as many outlive their spouses and often live far away from their children. 

All these rather negative reasons for seniors to flock to casinos are concerning. But who’s to say that those who choose to mingle with their peers in the more crowded, exciting environment of a casino are in the wrong?

Strolling through places like Caesars Palace and MGM Grand, it’s easy to see the attraction. You can sit down next to a fellow boomer and strike up a conversation. If you’re like me and need help understanding the games, plenty of peers are eager to assist.

In some way, casinos are like Disneyland for seniors. They offer activities like movies, bowling and bingo all under one roof.

Where else for the cost of an overpriced drink can seniors gather and listen to bands play songs that transport them back to their youth, if only for an hour? Places like Las Vegas and Atlantic City even offer senior meetup sites where groups participate in a variety of activities, like museum tours.

Some feel it’s wrong for seniors to waste their children’s and grandchildren’s inheritance or college funds. I disagree. They earned it, saved it and invested it, so they can spend it however they want. 

When you think about it, choosing how to blow their money is one of the last vestiges of freedom seniors have.

These lucky readers won big!

“I won $10,000 the day after my divorce was final. It financed my move to Colorado from South Dakota.” - Jan Weeks

 “Three of us played Cash 5. Two of us played every day. The other one never played, but he went and bought a ticket and won $20,000!” - Ron & Nadine Stoneburner

“Travel” with virtual tours