- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 14, 2004

UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — It’s Friday at the Mohegan Sun casino, and most of the daytime gamblers are retirees like 73-year-old Mike Sanzo. He is checking out the day’s races while his wife plays the slots.

Mr. Sanzo says he gambles for fun and enjoys the friends that he has made among other regulars at the casino since leaving his job installing signs for the state highway department.

“I’m retired, and it exercises my brain,” he says.

He is an example of what a surprising Yale University study found — older recreational gamblers seem to be healthier than nongamblers.

The findings are not rock solid. They are only based on telephone interviews, but the results are the opposite of what researchers expected. The survey showed that recreational gamblers 65 and older reported being in better health than their peers who don’t gamble. The older gamblers also reported less alcoholism, depression, bankruptcy and imprisonment than younger recreational gamblers, Yale epidemiologist Rani Desai said.

Miss Desai cautioned that more study is needed to conclude that gambling can be a healthy venture, and those who help gambling addicts are skeptical.

But the social aspects of gambling — whether it is slot machines at a casino, poker games with friends or bingo at a church hall — might explain the study’s findings, Miss Desai said.

“There’s this whole concept of healthy aging — that folks who continue to remain engaged in activity, especially in the community and in social activities, stay healthier longer — so I think this is a reflection of that. It’s not that gambling makes you healthy; it’s that gamblers are healthier,” Miss Desai said.

Some psychologists question the findings.

“It may get them out, but the socialization isn’t that much because they sit in front of machines, interacting with them,” said psychologist Elizabeth Sterling of Santa Fe, N.M., who counsels gambling addicts. “I guess if you can keep it at a limit — spend $20 and go once a week — there’s no harm to it, but a benefit I can’t see.”

Miss Desai started the study with the idea that health problems already well-documented among all gamblers might be more pronounced in gamblers older than 65. Any losses presumably would hit older people harder, because most are on fixed incomes.

The survey of 2,400 people relied on the participants to report their gambling habits, health and other personal information. A survey firm called all the participants, and Yale researchers crunched the numbers. The findings were published in the September issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The results could be because nongamblers might be too ill or disabled to leave the house, but there also are plenty of older people with health problems at the track and the blackjack tables.

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