When it comes to gambling and health, the Pepsi generation may not hold all the cards. Researchers at Yale University have found that older gamblers are healthier than their younger counterparts, who have higher rates of alcohol and substance abuse, bankruptcy, depression and incarceration.
The reason may have nothing to do with the health benefits of a playing a slot machine, buying a lottery ticket or betting on football, however.
"Older folks who are getting out into the community and remaining active ... are healthier and tend to stay healthy," said Rani A. Desai, associate professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine. "You cannot conclude out of this research that gambling makes you healthy. What you can conclude is that older gamblers are healthier."
Nevertheless, the Yale researcher added that for people 65 and older, "recreational gambling ... may even possibly provide some beneficial effect." She said that gambling activity stimulates socialization, travel and community activity, which may positively affect health.
The study was reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry. It consisted of nationwide telephone interviews of 2,417 adults and compared the health of older and younger adults who had gambled in the last year with those who had not.
Desai pointed out that more research needs to be done into the impact of the rapid expansion of casinos, slot machines and lotteries across much of the United States.
Anti-gambling advocates were quick to pounce on the survey results.
"It would be a mistake for anybody to think that there are not dangers in taking part in high-risk gambling" such as slot machines and the state lottery, said Christopher Armentano, director of problem gambling services in Connecticult’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. "It’s important to know what the consequences of gambling are for recreational gamblers."
Tom Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, said the Yale research was another example of industry-funded "junk science." Increasingly, he said, gambling researchers are coming up with results that the industry wants to hear.
"Instead of a serious look at the epidemic of pathological gambling, we are getting into research being done to extol its virtues," Grey said.
Although Grey implied the survey could have been sanctioned by gaming interests in order to paint a rosy picture of commercial gambling, the study was paid for in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, Women’s Health Research at Yale and the National Center for Responsible Gaming. The National Center for Responsible Gaming is an organization funded by the casino industry dedicated to educating gamblers about responsible gaming.