AARP ‘electronic crack’ article reminds us there’s another side of the world out there

Talk about a shot to the breadbasket: The October edition of AARP Bulletin warned its clientele about the dangers of slot play. The front-page promo for the feature article read: “THE CASINO TRAP: Why Slots Are Electronic Crack.”

In my opinion, the story was accurate, with anecdotes from seniors who lost their life savings, and comments from addictions experts who warned seniors not to get sucked in by offers of free meals, slot play, transportation, or shows. Experts also noted the case of a Nevada casino that operated an on-site pharmacy (since closed) where accumulated play credits could cover patrons’ copays on medications.

(But I wasn’t impressed by the magazine’s page designer, who used a file photo of a person inserting coins into a machine and collecting them with plastic cups. That’s something that largely ended during the last century.)

The article is a needed reminder for those in the casino business that (a) there’s always a segment of the population that shouldn’t be gambling and (b) there’s an even larger segment – the large majority - that doesn’t care about such matters as increasing play time on slot machines device, building up player loyalty, and increasing casino host connections.

In short, gambling isn’t for everybody. That’s something difficult to keep in mind, when, for example, you’re standing with 26,000 of your closest friends at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas, oohing and aahhing over the new Tim McGraw and My Cousin Vinny slots.

The article correctly noted that gambling opportunities are becoming more prevalent, with 1,400 casinos across 40 states. It also said that older gamblers, whose cognitive skills could be declining, can be particularly vulnerable to slot machine stimulation, with comments from clinical geropsychologists and neuroscientists.

I took the time to call the article’s author, John Rosengren, who is based in Minneapolis. (He repeats the play on words of Minnesota, which is known as the land of 10,000 lakes by most, but could also be called the land of 10,000 treatment centers.) Rosengren has written other articles about the problems of compulsive gambling, including one for The Atlantic. He didn’t strike me as one of those anti-casino conspiracy theorists, which in some ways disappointed me – it’d be much easier to disregard someone’s work if they lacked rationality or have some ax to grind. Rosengren didn’t, as far as I could see.

“It’s just that when it comes to gambling treatment, they’re about 50 years behind where alcoholism is,” he said.

Rosengren did contact the American Gaming Association, and his article had a paragraph-long response from Chris Moyer, director of AGA’s public affairs, that included this: “If seniors are enjoying the entertainment product we provide, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to enjoy that in a responsible manner.” Moyer also pointed out that casinos provide education materials on addiction, displaying pamphlets that urge patrons with gambling problems to call a toll-free number.

Still, seeing that article appear in what I perceived as a benign publication also was a bit striking. When you think about it, the Venn diagram showing the intersection of AARP readers and casino slot players is two almost overlapping circles. We are them, and they are us.

So, gambling operators: appreciate what you do for a living, temper it with a sense of responsibility, and when you run across viewpoints different than in your usual reading, take them in and learn from them.

Twitter: @NickSortal