A new study by Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has found about 30 per cent of older adults who take casino bus tours have moderate to severe gambling problems.

Entitled "A Free Ride? An Analysis of the Association of Casino Bus Tours and Problem Gambling Among Older Adults," the study found that going on casino bus tours is associated with higher odds of problem gambling. The study was published June 23rd in the journal Addiction.

"There's a high proportion of problem gamblers on these buses," Dr. Mark van der Maas, lead author on the study and a post-doctoral fellow at CAMH in its Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, said in an interview on YouTube.

"It's high, but we have to consider this in the context of what people do when they're at a casino. They gamble," he said. 

"The amount that you gamble increases your likelihood of being a problem gambler greatly. Those who visit the casino more often are more likely to be problem gamblers."

Van der Maas said the study shows a "clear connection" between the casino bus tours and chances of a person becoming a problem gambler. He said most Ontario casinos have programs targeted specifically at older adults, usually age 55 and up. The casino bus tours can include not only free transportation but also free meals and discounted hotel rooms. 

Dr. Mark van der Maas

Dr. Mark van der Maas, lead author on the study and post-doctoral fellow at CAMH in its institute for mental health and policy research, says: 'There's a high proportion of problem gamblers on these buses.' (YouTube)

Van der Maas said the study shows that such promotional deals have negative effects on older people, who can be more vulnerable to harm because of shrinking social networks and decreased financial resources. 

Researchers interviewed more than 2,000 people who went to one of seven slots venues in Central and Southwestern Ontario. All of the venues were operated by the Ontario and Lottery Gaming Corporation (OLGC). The venues included one casino and six horse racing tracks with slot machines and some table games.

The study found that bus tour patrons are more likely to be female, born outside of Canada and over age 75.

While the rate of severe gambling problems among older adults is considered low, or one in 500, the study found that the number rises to nearly one in 10 for those who take casino bus tours.

Van der Mass said the researchers found very little research on the relationship between casino tour buses and gambling problems, even though the tours are popular with older adults and companies target their marketing at seniors in retirement homes. 

VLT

Researchers interviewed more than 2,000 people who went to slots venues in Ontario. All of the venues were operated by OLGC. (CBC)

He said the study suggests the marketing of casino bus tours to adults 55 and over should come under greater scrutiny by gambling regulators.

CAMH defines problem gambling as gambling that interferes with work, school, or other activities, is harmful to mental or physical health, hurts a person financially, damages their reputation and causes problems with family and friends.

"Problem gambling is not just about losing money. Gambling problems can affect a person's whole life," it says. 

Study shows need for better regulation

Van der Maas said people with loved ones who go to casinos should ask them about their gambling and go with them to the casino to observe how they spend their time and money.

"Older adults may be experiencing a variety of issues such as retirement, health problems, isolation, grief and loss and taking these bus tours may seem appealing to them," he said. 

"While the majority of older adults gamble without serious issues, the progression into problem gambling can be especially fast and hard-hitting for this age group because of diminished financial and social resources."

Dr. Nigel Turner, a co-author of the study, said in a news release that the findings indicate a need for better regulation of casino marketing and advertising, particularly when aimed at older adults.

"Problem gambling prevention information efforts should be directed towards this population," he said.

The Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre, now known as Gambling Research Exchange Ontario, funded the study.