Wyomingites for a Better Economy Today and Tomorrow
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ELDERS LURED TO CASINOS EELDlders lured to casinos


Associated Press Date: Wednesday, May 17, 2000

WEST DES MOINES (AP) - Elder Iowans with disposable income and time on their hands are increasingly seeking solace in Iowa's casinos, but some of them instead find a reason for despair.

Charlie Nelson, 63, a Drake University history professor for 30 years, took early retirement in 1994 because of heart disease. He had lost his father, felt bad about retiring early and regretted decisions he had made early in life."I found relief in the dreamlike world of the slot-machine player," he said. "As I put the tokens in for hours after hours, I found myself in an alteredmood. It's as if a switch were turned inside my head." The slot machines installed at Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in 1995 aided in his financial and emotional collapse, he said.

Gwen Stubbs, 61, said she began playing the slots at Prairie Meadows after her husband had died and a friend was murdered. Her mother was in a nursing home, and she was lonely.  She played only the nickel machines, but sometimes played 24 hours straight. Both Stubbs and Nelson hit the jackpot once. She won almost $23,000 while he won $5,000. The win gave them an emotional high and encouraged their gambling. But like other gamblers, they also lost. 

It wasn't until the point of despair - what Nelson calls "near death" that they sought help. The pair talked about their compulsive gambling on Monday at the 21st Annual Governor's Conference on Aging. Compulsive gambling affects all age groups but can be especially devastating for older Iowans because of their inability to regenerate income, said Harlan Vogel, who treats problem gamblers in western Iowa.

Prairie Meadows has a special "Senior Day" on Tuesdays that caters to older Iowans. Robert Farinella, general manager of the casino, said seniors are simply a group who could use the entertainment. "These days are very well attended," Farinella said. 

Today, Stubbs and Nelson are recovering with the help of Gamblers Anonymous.

Nelson believes Iowa is addicted to gambling and he hopes to devote his energy to end legalized gambling in the state.

"I am a living, breathing witness to the horrible truth," he said.