It’s an established fact that older adults make up a large percentage of patrons at gambling casinos operating across the United States. But are older people more likely to be problem-gamblers? And what is the impact of casinos on nearby communities?
Questions like these have recently gained particular relevance in Massachusetts. The Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville became the state’s first commercial gaming establishment in 2015. MGM opened the state’s first Las Vegas-style resort casino in Springfield last year. Most recently, Wynn Resort Casinos opened the Encore Boston Harbor resort and casino in Everett this summer.
A new study by gerontologists at the University of Massachusetts Boston, along with the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling, is examining the impact of a casino on older adults living within a short drive from the attraction. The research, funded by the Massachusetts Gambling Commission, is focused on 15 communities surrounding Plainridge Park.
“The goal of this project is to provide a full picture of how the casino impacts the lives of older residents in surrounding communities,” said Caitlin Coyle, a research fellow at UMass Boston’s Gerontology Institute.
“Casino gaming is considered a controversial activity; but with this work we hope to be able to objectively describe the full range of social and economic impact of the casinos on the older adult population in the region,”she said.
Previous research indicates casinos may offer some benefits to older adults by providing social recreational activity. Casinos can become a new source of entertainment and they generally welcome older adults as valued customers.
But problem behavior may also be associated with older-adult gambling. What happens when a trip to a casino becomes just a short ride from home rather than a day-long travel commitment to another state?
Older adults often have more time to spend on leisure activities like gambling. Factors that could put older people at higher risk of problem gambling include loneliness, limited financial resources and changes in cognitive functioning. Common casino marketing incentives seem to naturally appeal to older people with offerings such as affordable meal deals or daytime entertainment options.
Despite these risk factors, research demonstrating gambling to be a significant threat to the well-being of older people is mixed. Coyle’s study will take a broad look at the impact of the Plainridge Park Casino on the older adult population of the region.
Plainridge Park was selected for the study because it has established a track record over several years. The casino operates 1,500 slots and blackjack machines. Plainridge Park is seeking to add table games, such as craps and blackjack, at the casino.
The study will perform one-on-one interviews with executive directors in local councils on aging in the 15 communities surrounding Plainridge. Researchers will follow up with a large, web-based survey this winter to help identify how the aging population and retirees in these surrounding communities view the casino.
“We want to know what all older adults – gamblers and others who do not gamble – think about the casino in their area,” said Coyle. “It’s also important to understand how organizations such as local councils on aging view it.”
Coyle said the current study is intended to produce basic research that can be used as the basis for a more detailed examination of casinos and their impact in the future. “With the establishment of additional casinos in Springfield and Everett, these are important issues that deserve close attention.”