The research team involving Lia Nower, JD, PhD, of the Rutgers University Centre for Gambling Studies, and Alex Blaszczynski, Ph.D. of the University of Sydney, Australia has found that older gamblers who ask casinos to bar them from returning fear that they will kill themselves if they don't stop gambling.
The team looked at 1,601 self-described problem gamblers who asked between 2001 and 2003 to be banned from Missouri casinos.
Under the exclusion program implemented by Missouri, gamblers who believe they have a problem can enter an agreement with a casino and/or state regulators authorizing casino staff to bar them. If they are found on the premises, they agree to be physically removed and possibly charged with trespass. Exclusion periods can range from six months to an irrevocable lifetime ban.
Older adults, over age 55 in this study, reported gambling an average of 17 years before "self-exclusion" - more than twice the length of time reported by younger adults.
The participants including younger, middle-aged and older adults were asked to cite the main reason or reasons why they sought to be barred from casinos.
The results showed that nearly 14 percent of older adults surveyed - a higher proportion than any other group indicated they sought help because they wanted to prevent themselves from committing suicide.
"This is particularly troubling because, irrespective of age, problem gamblers have reported rates of suicidal ideation and/or attempts as high as six times those found in the general population," said Nower.
The study also found that older adults were more likely than their younger counterparts, to prefer non-strategic games such as slot machines, video poker and lottery tickets.
The researchers noted that such preferences might accelerate the onset of gambling problems, particularly in light of the misperceptions of randomness and the probability of winning such games.
The study appears in the Psychology and Aging, published by the American Psychological Association.