Assumptions about the relationship between this industry and its older customers fails to take into account some of the latest research examining the impact of casino gambling on senior citizens as well as actual customer demographics.
A 2003 study funded by the National Institute of Justice compared the casino gambling practices of the elderly to those of younger gamblers in eight new casino jurisdictions, concluding that the data “do not support the view that casino gambling is a major threat to the elderly, preying on the aged and leading them to destructive gambling practices.” Furthermore, the study found that the elderly “generally exercise better money management and experience proportionately fewer gambling problems than the general population.”(1)
Other research reached similar conclusions. According to a published study of elderly women gamblers conducted by researchers at Michigan State University, “The primary motivation for gambling with elderly women is excitement and entertainment. … Money, reliance on source of income and addiction do not appear to be motivators for this group. As such, problem gambling is not expected to be a problem with elderly women gamblers.”(2)
A study of older Minnesotans had comparable results. Co-directed by researchers at The College of Saint Benedict/St. John’s University and St. Cloud University, the study found “no evidence that casino gambling activities threaten [older Minnesotans’] well being. For most respondents the social benefits were the most salient parts of this activity and they were well aware of the danger signs of problem behaviors. … Public concerns and media images may be based on socially constructed assumptions and fears.”(3)
Survey research supports the findings of these studies. According to NFO WorldGroup, casino customers are better educated with higher incomes than the average U.S. household. The median household income of U.S. casino customers is $50,716, compared to $42,228 for the overall U.S. population. And casino customers are more likely to have attended college and hold a white-collar job than the average American.(4)
Additionally, the survey research found that the casino customer base is a reflection of the overall U.S. population. NFO WorldGroup data determined that the median age of the U.S. casino customer is only slightly higher than that of all adult Americans (47 years versus 45 years). According to research conducted in 1999 for the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, a smaller proportion of senior citizens gamble than any other adult age group.(5)
For those senior citizens who do choose to gamble, the data shows that the vast majority of them come to casinos for the social interaction. Fun and entertainment, not gambling, is their primary motivation, according to a 2000 poll conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates and The Luntz Research Companies. Sixty-two percent see casinos as an “inexpensive day out” for someone on a fixed income.
Not only do seniors like to gamble for fun, but they also don’t want someone else telling them how to spend their time and disposable income. According to the Hart/Luntz poll, 90 percent of senior citizens believe gambling is a question of personal freedom, and they should be able to go into a casino, have their own budget, and spend their disposable income the way they want. More than 80 percent of seniors always or usually set a budget.(6)
- B. Grant Stitt et al., “Gambling Among Older Adults,” Experimental Aging Research 29 (2003): 189-203.
- John Tarras et al., “The Profiles and Motivations of Elderly Women Gamblers,” Gaming Research & Review Journal 5, no. 1: 33-46.
- Janet Hope and Linda Havir, “You Bet They’re Having Fun! Older Americans and Casino Gambling,” Jounal of Aging Studies 16, no. 2 (May 2002): 177-97.
- Harrah’s Survey 2003: Profile of the American Casino Gambler (Las Vegas: Harrah’s Entertainment, Inc.), 18.
- National Opinion Research Center, et al., Gambling Impact and Behavior Study, report prepared for the National Gambling Impact Study Commission (Chicago: University of Chicago, April 1, 1999), 9.
- State of the States: The AGA Survey of Casino Entertainment (Washington, D.C.: American Gaming Association, 2000).