Many older adult recreational centres run casino bus trips for their members. Most participants on these trips lose money. However, they still have a fun experience socializing with their peers, in a safe environment where casino staff treat all patrons with dignity and respect. While no one likes to lose money, the gambling losses for the majority of older adults who visit casinos are within their means. Indeed, studies find problem gambling amongst older adults is lower than rates for the general population.
Some older adults who participate in recreational bus trips do experience harm. Older adults who personally face gambling problems experience this harm, as do their families and peers. Financial issues are the most obvious example of this harm. These range from a reduced ability to spend money on necessities to the more serious extreme of bankruptcy. The consequences of this harm extend beyond monetary issues. It also includes health issues, such as reduced sleep due to worry, depression, and in serious cases death by suicide. Relationship harms can also occur, such as relationship neglect, increased arguments, and divorce. So while problem gambling amongst older adults is not widespread, the consequences for those impacted by it are significant.
There are a number of steps older adult centres can take to mitigate the harm from problem gambling. At the extreme, it is possible to cancel all recreational casino bus trips. However, this deprives those who enjoy these trips of the socialization benefits. It is also possible to reduce the number of trips, and this may be a viable option if a centre is running a weekly trip but for most centres that are running monthly trips this approach may just cause people to gamble more when a trip does occur. Some recreational centres include chaperones on casino trips, but this approach has flaws as well. A chaperone is unlikely to know if someone is gambling within their means or losing more than they can afford. If a chaperone does suspect someone has a gambling problem it is also unlikely they will have the appropriate training to intervene.
Some less intrusive interventions may be more effective approaches. The general idea of these other approaches is to provide information to older adults to assist them in making choices. A simple solution is to provide older adults with maps of the casino floor itself on the front and of nearby amenities on the back. The maps of the casino can assist older adults in finding their way around once inside. The layout of casinos is disorienting by design, in hopes that people do not leave. Providing a map can help visitors find the exits, so when they are ready to leave they can.
Many casinos will subsidize bus trips, but in return require a minimum length of visit. Placing directions to nearby amenities on the back of the casino map provides ideas for alternative activities once someone is finished gambling. This decreases the likelihood that someone will gamble more than they can afford simply because it is not the time to leave yet. If many visitors find the length of the trips is too long it may also be worth shortening the trip and charging a fee for the bus instead of accepting the casino subsidy.
When people register for the bus trip the centres may want to remind everyone to bring a watch. Casinos do not contain clocks in hopes that people will lose track of time and gamble longer. Wearing a wristwatch or having a watch in a pocket can help protect against this disorientation. It also has the added benefit of making it more likely everyone will be back on the bus in time for departure.
Finally, it may be worthwhile to provide an orientation session for older adults either before they board the bus or on the bus trip itself. Very few people are likely to attend a training session on problem gambling. An orientation session that provides information about the casino, the surrounding attractions, how to play different casino games, strategies to protect oneself from theft, and methods to recognize problem gambling is likely to be attractive to most who are joining the bus trip.
In the orientation session, when turning to the issue of problem gambling, it may be more helpful to explain this as an opportunity to share some ideas on how people can avoid losing too much money. Research on older adults has found strategies fall into two categories: cognitive strategies and behavioural strategies. Cognitive strategies include recognizing that the odds are against casino visitors and not thinking of oneself as lucky. Behavioural strategies include ideas like bringing a pre-set amount to gamble, quitting when ahead, and placing small bets so the money will last longer. Rather than directly sharing these ideas, it may be helpful to encourage orientation session participants to share their own ideas on how they prevent themselves from losing too much money. The orientation leader can then add some more ideas to round out what is missing. Older adults are more likely to adopt the strategies if they have come from their peers.
Recreational casino bus trips can be an enjoyable social outing for older adults. Adopting some simple preventative approaches can help ensure the benefits of these trips outweigh any harms.