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Gambling and Seniors Part 1 - The Psychology of Casinos

Gambling and Seniors Part 1 - The Psychology of Casinos

by Don Drake, Connelly Law Offices, Ltd. 3.12.24

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Attorney RJ Connelly III

"We are going to update and rerun our five-part series about problem gambling and our seniors," said professional fiduciary and certified elder law Attorney RJ Connelly III. "Although younger people are more likely to develop gambling disorders, seniors face age-specific risks that could have catastrophic outcomes. Recent studies show that seniors are engaging in gambling activity now more than ever."

"Remember, we are not dealing with a thirty-year-old who has time to recoup and rebuild their portfolios," stated Attorney Connelly. "Most seniors do not have the time or resources to recover from devastating financial losses. These individuals have worked their entire lives with a plan to provide for their retirement. Suddenly, they find themselves dipping into retirement accounts, selling that second house, or even taking out a mortgage on their home. Problem gambling disrupts and destroys a gambler's personal life and creates the kind of stress no one in their senior years should be experiencing."

Our series on Gambling Addiction and Seniors will be in five parts:

  • Part 1 - The Psychology of Casinos

  • Part 2 - The Dangers of Online Gambling

  • Part 3 - Spotting the Problem and Discussing It

  • Part 4 - Beginning the Financial Recovery

  • Part 5 - Recovery, Treatment, and Moving Forward

"In our first part of gambling and seniors, we will look at those things that casino operators do to draw you in and then, once there, keep you spending in hopes of a big score," said Attorney Connelly. "And there's much more involved in the casino experience than just a good marketing strategy."

Gambling and Other Addictions

Seniors continue to be one of the fastest-growing groups of gamblers. With the proliferation of casinos in this country and the aging of America, it's safe to assume that the problem will continue to grow. As if casinos with their slots and table games and states promoting their endless lottery games are not enough, the legalization of “sports betting” has added another layer to this problem, with an eye on legalizing online gaming nationwide.

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Online betting is flourishing

In 2018, the state legislature of Rhode Island enacted a law that permitted sports betting. This law allowed Rhode Island's two casinos, the Twin River Casino Hotel in Lincoln and the Tiverton Casino Hotel in Tiverton, to offer sports betting to their patrons. The state further allowed mobile sports betting in Rhode Island, enabling individuals to bet on sporting events from their mobile devices while physically located within the state's borders.

Similarly, Connecticut launched retail sports betting in September 2021, allowing sports fans to place bets on games in person. The state then launched online betting in October 2021, expanding the options available to sports enthusiasts.

In August 2022, Massachusetts lawmakers passed a similar law legalizing sports betting. After the 2018 federal ban on sports betting was overturned, many states began legalizing the activity. Brick-and-mortar sportsbooks began operations in Massachusetts in January 2023, allowing sports enthusiasts to place bets in person. Online betting became available in March 2023, allowing individuals to place bets on their favorite games from the comfort of their own homes.

"When it comes to addictions, gambling is a more behaviorally and cognitively based disorder than substance addiction, however, there does exist a strong connection between gambling and other addictive disorders," stated Attorney Connelly. "Multiple research studies suggest that there are high comorbidity rates between substance use disorders (SUD), in particular alcohol, and problem gambling. Research in this country found that 73% of people who participated in the study and were previously diagnosed with a gambling addiction also had an alcohol use disorder, which leads to physical health issues in older adults."

Catherine's Story

A grandmother named Catherine, who was from the Boston area, went to the casino in Connecticut at least three times a week, playing “strictly slots,” as she would say, to "forget my problems." But the hours she would spend there also included free drinks and plenty of cigarettes, which exacerbated her alcohol abuse and contributed to the worsening of her COPD.

Catherine started with the penny slots, moved on to the quarter machines, and finally spent her time at the dollar slots, “that’s where the real money can be made,” she told us. She entered treatment after her daughter found unpaid tax bills, her electricity shut off, and a refrigerator loaded with warm, rotting food. She was living alone after the death of her husband and used the social interactions at the casino as a replacement for her five-decade-long marriage.

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"I truly lost control of my life..."

“The casino became my new family,” Catherine said. “I made friends, not only other people my age, but all the waitresses knew me by name. They seemed to care. I would give them big tips and they spent time talking with me. If I felt down, I would walk in, and being there brought me back to life. There was no place else I wanted to be!”

“After Art died (her husband),” she continued, “everything just got worse. We would enjoy a glass of wine with dinner each night, but that was it. Now I drink first thing in the morning, and because of my COPD, my coughing has gotten worse because I smoke more now, too. When I got his life insurance money, I thought I had it made, but it’s all gone now, and so are my other savings. All I had left was his VA survivor benefits, my social security, and a house that I was on my way to losing."

Catherine had three children and four grandchildren, all scattered around the country. It wasn’t until Christmas that year that her oldest daughter found out how bad her mother's life had become.

“When she came, I had completely lost control of everything in my life. I was hooked on poker slots and spent more time at the casino than home. When my car broke down, I called a friend I had met there to pick me up and take me to Mohegan Sun. I started borrowing money from people, and the more I borrowed, the more depressed I became and the more I would drink,” she said. "But I couldn't stop."

“Right around Thanksgiving, I had hit a new low. My electricity had been off since August, and I had no heat or hot water. I kept a gym membership that was ten dollars a month just so I could shower and stay warm, and when I wasn’t at the casino, I was at the senior center where I could eat and get cigarettes from people. By the second week of December, for the first time in my life, I began thinking about suicide. If my daughter hadn’t arrived, I don’t know if I would be here right now. I was so ashamed when she found me, so ashamed.”

Catherine attended a residential treatment program and was referred to financial counseling. She was put in touch with an elder law attorney who helped her sell her house with the proceeds going towards her debts; she moved into an affordable apartment, the excess monies were put into a trust, and his office managed her accounts and paid her bills. But the truth is, she was one of the few success stories. There are many more who end up losing everything because of their gambling addiction and the problems resulting from it.

The Psychology of the Casino

"Casinos are not just establishments where people come to gamble, rather, they are highly engineered spaces designed to keep players engaged and spending money," stated Attorney Connelly. "Every detail, from the architecture and decor to the placement of tables and staff, is carefully crafted based on extensive research into the psychology of gambling. The aim is to create an alluring and distracting atmosphere where players get caught up in the excitement and lose track of time and money."

Despite being aware of the techniques used, it can still be challenging to resist the lure of the casino. It's truly fascinating how the psychology of a casino works. Understanding the tricks in place may help seniors make better decisions about spending their time and money in these environments.

Not a Clock in Sight

With the advent of cell phones, fewer people are wearing wristwatches. Even during a busy day, people often check their phones to keep track of time, making wristwatches redundant. However, when it comes to gambling, constantly reaching for the phone can be a distraction. While playing the slot machines, for example, taking out the phone to check the time can interrupt the momentum and excitement of the game. This is where the casino operators can take advantage of the situation. Casinos are designed to be loud and chaotic, with spinning wheels and ringing bells that can easily divert a player's attention from the clock. The lack of clocks and windows in casinos is not a coincidence; it's a deliberate strategy to keep players engaged for as long as possible. By keeping players distracted and unaware of the time, casinos can encourage them to keep gambling for extended periods, resulting in increased profits.

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Designed to keep you spending

The design of casinos is often aimed at keeping the players engaged and unaware of the passage of time. The walls are usually devoid of clocks, which can serve as a constant reminder of how much time has passed. By eliminating this visual cue, the players can easily lose track of time, and hours can blend together without notice.

Studies have shown that players often become aware of time only when thirsty. To counter this, casinos offer complimentary refreshments to keep the players hydrated and prevent them from leaving the gaming floor. This well-planned strategy helps keep the players playing longer, leading to more money spent.

No Need for Windows

The transition from day to night is a natural phenomenon that most of us take for granted. We assume we can tell when the sun goes down, and the moon rises in the sky, but what if we couldn't? What if we were in a place where the natural light was blocked out, and we were left with no way of knowing what was happening outside?

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The "outside world" does not exist

This is the reality for many people who find themselves inside a casino. While there may be windows near the entrances and exits, the outside world becomes a distant memory once you're inside. The casino is designed to keep you hooked, to hold your attention, and to make you forget about the passage of time.

If you could see the light outside changing, your body clock would kick in and tell you it’s time to go. Once it became dark, you would start to feel sleepy, moving you to leave. But the casino doesn't want that. They want you to stay and keep playing.

Sensory Stimulation

Have you ever been inside a casino? The atmosphere is electrifying! The moment you step in, you are greeted with a plethora of sounds and sensations that are meant to create an illusion of a world full of possibilities. The sound of the electronic slots whirring, the sirens, and the flashing lights all work together to create a hypnotic effect that is hard to resist. You can hear people shouting with joy when they win, and it seems like anyone can be a winner. However, the reality is quite different. The odds are always in favor of the casino, so the only real winners are the ones who own the place.

Now, imagine a gaming room where everyone is losing, and there is no excitement in the air. No bells ringing, no lights flashing, and no one seems to be having any fun. Would you spend your hard-earned money there? Probably not. Casino operators understand this and know how to keep things lively and entertaining enough to keep the cash flowing. They make sure just enough people win to create a buzz, but not enough to lose their profits. It's all about striking a balance between excitement and profitability.

It Feels Just Like Home

As you walk through a casino, you'll notice that the lighting is low, mellow, and inviting. It creates a comfortable and cozy atmosphere that's reminiscent of your living room or sitting around a fire drinking a hot chocolate or warm latte. The operators want you to feel at ease and safe, as this encourages you to keep spending and feel good about gambling. They understand that if they take care of you with such a comfortable and inviting environment, they'll also take care of your finances. They count on the fact that you'll think that just a few more spins will surely win.

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Mesmerizing carpet patterns

Have you ever noticed the carpet in a casino? It's never plain green, blue, or yellow. The patterns are often swirls, lines, circles, and splashes of color. They're designed to become mesmerizing to the mind and strangely pleasing after a while. Most people would never put a casino pattern carpet in their homes because it can make them feel seasick, but that's precisely the point. The patterns are meant to be hypnotic and keep your attention focused on the games.

When it comes to the walls, you'll notice that they're usually painted in shades of red or gold. These colors are known to evoke a feeling of safety and comfort in the mind. Again, this is all part of the casino's strategy to make you feel at home and encourage you to keep spending.

Another thing you'll notice is the cleanliness of the casino. Workers are always cleaning everywhere. Whether you're in the casino, bar, or bathroom, you'll see people cleaning. This is to show you that the operators value your safety and health. It also reinforces the idea that you're part of the casino's family.

Finally, if you go shopping at the stores in the casino, you'll notice that the prices are higher than other retail outlets on the outside. Despite this, people still buy from them. One of the reasons is the ambient music being played. It's always soft, easy to listen to, and keeps the shopper in a trance-like state. It makes them feel relaxed, happy, and more likely to spend freely.

Services Other Than Gambling

As you sit for hours at a slot in the casino, drinking free alcohol, smoking cigarette after cigarette, and becoming increasingly frustrated at losing, you might feel the need to use the bathroom or grab a quick bite to eat. However, finding the nearest restroom or food court can be an uphill task since they are often located deep inside the casino, at the back of the building, in an attempt to keep you away from the exits.

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Keep the gamblers away from exits

To make matters worse, you might have to navigate through another in-house casino, which is not a coincidence. Casinos use a clever marketing strategy known as "Point of Sale" (POS) to maintain your attention for as long as possible. If you are lucky enough to win and ready to cash in your winnings, taking the exit that leads through another casino is a trick designed to separate you from your money. This marketing strategy is akin to the shelving of merchandise in grocery stores, where items such as magazines, candy, gum, batteries, and sodas are placed near the POS. These items sell one-and-a-half to three times faster than the same products on a shelf elsewhere in the store. In high-traffic supermarkets, some items have been reported to sell as much as sixty percent faster.

In a casino, this marketing strategy gives you one more chance to win or take what you already won and try your luck again. The next time you are in a casino, remember that everything from the lighting to the placement of restrooms and food courts is intentionally designed to keep you inside for as long as possible.

Coming Close but No Cigar

It's no secret that gambling can be an exhilarating experience. The thrill of taking a risk and potentially winning big is what draws many people to casinos and other gambling establishments in the first place. However, what many people don't realize is that the near misses can be just as exciting as the actual wins, if not more so.

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"We almost won..."

Take a baseball game, for example. While a home run is certainly exciting, there's something about a near-home run that's just as thrilling. When the ball is flying through the air, seemingly about to clear the fence, only to be caught by the opposing team at the last second, it can be a heart-stopping moment. And when that scene is replayed over and over again, the adrenaline just keeps flowing.

The same is true of gambling. Slot machines, in particular, are designed to give players near wins that keep them coming back for more. You might get two out of the three symbols you need for a big payout, or you might hit a small payout that leaves you just one symbol away from the jackpot. It's these near misses that keep players hooked, even when the odds are stacked against them.

Blackjack is another game where the near wins can be just as exciting as the actual wins. When you're playing with a group of people and everyone is winning hands, it can be easy to get caught up in the excitement and start betting more and more. But the truth is, the house always has the advantage, and eventually, those near-wins will turn into actual losses. Even games like craps, where players feel like they have more control over the outcome, are designed to give players a false sense of security. Sure, you might be rolling the dice, but the odds are still in the house's favor.

We Like You So Much We’ll Give You Free Things

In the world of casinos, it's common for operators to offer free giveaways to their customers as a way to keep them coming back. These giveaways, known as "comps" in the industry, can take many forms, from free food and drinks to tickets for shows and even a cup of quarters. Employees of the casino offer these comps to players, hoping to keep them engaged and spending money on games and other activities.

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Free drinks, free food, keep spending

While these comps may seem like a great deal, it's important to remember that they are not truly free. In fact, the cost of a comp can be quite high, especially if the player ends up losing a significant amount of money while they are at the casino. As the famous potato chip commercial once said, "You can't stop at just one," and this is particularly true when it comes to comps.

One client we spoke to recounted a time when she received free tickets to a show, followed by a "meet and greet" with the performers and a party afterwards. When we asked her how much the show had cost her, she replied that it was free. However, she shared how much she had lost at the casino that day, admitting that it was close to a thousand dollars.

We explained to her that this was the actual cost of the show - if she had simply purchased tickets for $80 each and eaten at the buffet for $29, she could have gone home with $900 more in her pocket. This is an important lesson to keep in mind when it comes to comps - while they may seem like a great deal, they are often just a way for the casino to keep players spending money. After all, whatever a casino gives out in comps, they can expect to reap back a hundred-fold.

Have A Drink on Us

I suppose this could be classified as a freebie but the discussion about consuming alcohol while gambling is a different subject with serious ramifications. As we discussed earlier with our client Catherine, her casino addiction also exacerbated her alcohol problem.

The operators know that drinks will keep the player cheerful and willing to spend. The waitresses will run to you when the glass is empty, not only keeping you filled with a mind-altering substance but appealing to your narcissistic side. Imagine, you are so important that the house is paying attention to you. Yes, another game played by casino operators.

If you are playing blackjack, the casino operators know the more alcohol you consume, the more of a sloppy game you will play. As the brain becomes more intoxicated, basic decisions can no longer be made. Rational thinking is out the door as impulse takes over. Need we say more?

We All Want to Feel Important

When it comes to casinos, the art of making patrons feel important is a well-practiced trick. Those who frequent the penny slots are less likely to receive complimentary perks compared to those who spend time at the blackjack tables. This is because the amount of money a patron spends directly influences their level of importance in the eyes of the casino operators.

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You may even get a free ride

It's a different story for those who win big, though. These patrons suddenly find themselves the center of attention, with casino operators offering them free hotel rooms, upgrades to their existing accommodations, and meals at the best steakhouse in the building. It may seem like the casinos are putting out a lot of money upfront, but they know that by appealing to the player's sense of narcissism, they will get their money back and then some.

Indeed, keeping big winners playing is a crucial part of the casino business. By doing so, the casino ensures

that the money stays within their walls, rather than leaving with the patron. This is why they go to great lengths to make sure the big winners feel important and well taken care of, with the hopes that they will continue to gamble and spend money at their establishment.

A Maze Called A Casino

Imagine flying over a casino and looking down at its layout. What you would see is a maze-like arrangement that is similar to the cornfield mazes that crop up around Halloween. However, there is one major difference: while the cornfield maze has a planned layout, the casino layout is deliberately designed to confuse you.

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The maze called a casino

The casino's confusing design is evident from the moment you enter. You might find that the dollar machines are located at the entrance of one casino, while at another, it’s the quarter machines. This is done intentionally to keep you off balance and unsure of where to go next.

As you wander around the casino, you will notice little nooks where machines are tucked away, and large areas where tall machines keep you from seeing where the exits are located. The newer casinos are built with low ceilings to prevent players from seeing landmarks and making them unable to learn the "lay of the land". This is done deliberately to keep players disoriented and confused, making it more difficult for them to leave.

To make matters worse, many players indulge in a few drinks while they're playing, which can make them even more disoriented and lost. They may end up wandering aimlessly, trying to find their way out, only to get sucked back in by the allure of the games. They may convince themselves to play a few more games so they can "gather their thoughts," but end up getting more and more sucked in. It's a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break free from

Using What's Familiar

Many casinos attract visitors from out of town, but they also have a significant number of locals who frequent their establishments. To capitalize on this local customer base, casinos often collaborate with other businesses in the area. They may offer free meals at popular local restaurants or even give away a car provided by a reputable local dealership - all in exchange for advertising.

This type of collaboration benefits everyone involved. The player feels reassured that a respected local business is associated with the casino, giving them a sense of trust and community. However, it's important to remember that casinos are still businesses that need to make a profit to stay open. While they may genuinely care about their community, their ultimate goal is to maximize revenue.

Oxygen-Filled Buildings?

It is not uncommon to hear people blame casinos for their financial losses. One individual claimed that he lost $400 because he suddenly felt wide awake after experiencing a wave of cold water hitting him. According to him, the casino pumps oxygen into the building to create a feeling of euphoria among players and keep them awake. However, this claim is nothing but a myth.

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No truth to the rumors

While it is true that casinos keep the temperature inside cooler than an average building, they do not pump extra oxygen into the air. With all the other sensory stimulations going on in a casino, the need for additional oxygen is not necessary to keep players alert and gambling. Moreover, fire officials have warned that such a plan would pose a significant fire hazard and would get a casino shut down immediately.

In a casino where players are smoking and slot machines are shooting out lights and sound by the second, the risk of fire is already high. Adding extra oxygen to the mix would only increase the likelihood of a fire breaking out, which could lead to catastrophic consequences. It is not worth the liability for a casino to resort to such tricks to separate people from their money.

A Final Word

Although losing money is never good for anyone, younger people have time to rebuild their retirement funds again while unfortunately, older adults will have no time to recover. Health issues also arise for seniors due to increased drinking and breathing in unhealthy levels of second-hand smoke. They also lose track of time more easily and often skip medications while busy at the slot machines.

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Gambling losses are devastating for seniors

What’s even more important is to understand what may lie behind the onset of a gambling addiction. We know that behind every addiction is an emotional component, and in the case of seniors, it may be a recent loss of a spouse or their way of life. Such an emerging mental health issue is certainly made exponentially worse when a senior uses gambling as their coping mechanism.

"We urge any family who has someone with a gambling problem to manage their bank accounts for them and if you cannot do this, seek a professional fiduciary, an elder law attorney or a daily money manager to oversee their finances," stated Attorney Connelly. "A professional fiduciary will not only keep all bills paid, taxes up to date and limit spending, but also monitor bank accounts for any sign of fraud. This is a necessity for any senior who has a gambling problem."

If someone already has a rep payee and you do not know who that person is, get the information. On more than one occasion, this office has found fellow gamblers acting as rep payees for a senior who not only permitted gambling to occur, but also dipped into the account themselves. We will discuss this more in an upcoming blog.

In our next blog, we will look at the issue of online gambling and why this may be even more problematic for seniors. Additional help can be found by going to the National Council on Problem Gambling where you can find help in whatever state you are in.

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Please note that the information provided in this blog is not intended to and should not be construed as legal, financial, or medical advice. The content, materials, and information presented in this blog are solely for general informational purposes and may not be the most up-to-date information available regarding legal, financial, or medical matters. This blog may also contain links to other third-party websites that are included for the convenience of the reader or user. Please note that Connelly Law Offices, Ltd. does not necessarily recommend or endorse the contents of such third-party sites. If you have any particular legal matters, financial concerns, or medical issues, we strongly advise you to consult your attorney, professional fiduciary advisor, or medical provider.

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