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 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 this month’s issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry. It consisted of nationwide telephone interviews of 2,417 adults.
Desai said 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 report.
"It would be a mistake for anybody to think that there are no 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 Connecticut’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.