Elder Law — HALF a Penny for Your Thoughts


A reverse mortgage to geed a slot machine? Can a car alarm reduce depression in elders? What can you buy for half a penny? I have just returned from an estate planning conference in Las Vegas. This was a conference like many others where we were trapped in a windowless conference room for hours on end as speakers droned on about the latest innovations in avoiding estate taxation and applying new techniques to serve estate planning clients. Yawn. Boring.

A far better lesson in estate planning and elder law was available just outside the conference room doors. Those of you that have been to Sin City know exactly what I am talking about; those that don’t are better off. Las Vegas, and gambling halls generally, have become churches of Godless and desperate people. The vast majority of those in casinos are not there to blow off a little steam or throw caution aside for a few hours of distraction. No, the people who are drawn to this mecca of neon and nicotine come out of their own desperation. They come to be winners. The losers in modern American life – the sick, the unattractive, the decrepit, the old, the mentally ill – the losers come to have a chance, just for a little while, to be winners. They come for hope. Hope that the machine will tell them that they are jackpot winners by making noises and illuminating lights.

Casinos are ordinarily divided into two main sections, one for table games (blackjack, baccarat, roulette, craps) and one for slot machines (the infamous "one arm bandits").

Walking around the casinos it quickly became apparent that those playing at the tables were mostly younger and middle aged men, mostly in small groups, making some serious calculations of their potential success. These were men who knew the odds and were consciously putting their money on the line strictly for a speculative financial return. Many of these men lead ordinary lives as lawyers, accountants, managers – people who take little risk in their "day" jobs, but vent their conservative natures from time to time by visiting Lady Luck. These are the same folks who drive Toyota Camry’s during the week and Harley Davidsons on the weekends. Put in perspective, these gamblers understand the risks they are taking at the tables and are prepared to lose their grubstake as dues for the release that being a "player" brings to them. Seldom do these gamblers gamble their rent or food money. Since there were two people who could communicate with each other there was this type of gambling – "hey Org, I’ll bet you a rock that you get eaten by that saber tooth tiger first!"

As an elder law lawyer, I am far more concerned with the other side of the casino. Like a vast sea of buzzing alarm clocks, beeping microwave overs and unstoppable car alarms – the cacophony of the slot machine areas in casinos sounds like a virtuoso performance to those seeking to be winners. BAR – BAR – BAR. 7-7-7. With carpel tunnel inducing repetition the nicotine induced masses monotonously search for the machines’ positive feedback. Most of the people at the slot machines appear to be obsessed by the prospect that they could be winners – some of the machines even say "You’re a Winner", never telling you that you are a loser.

But these people are the losers in life. Whether by illness, financial distress or merely addictive natures, many people are drawn to spending what remains of their lives and savings fixated on the hope of positive reinforcement from a machine. The real walk-out-the-door payouts are meager. Few walk out of the casino with a surplus – they let it ride, and when they do, they lose. Like the lonely elders who spend all their money on meaningless junk just so they can chat with their favorite Home Shopping Network or QVC operator, casinos provide a sense of community in a soulless country that abandons its losers. That is not a good reason to keep building casinos.

It would seem that the vast majority of the masses in the Las Vegas casinos are there to pass time in an atmosphere where there is a chance of rising from the crowd, where your car alarm goes off, your lights blink and everyone knows that you’re a winner. I am concerned that far too many elders are in casinos with funds that they need for their own protection. In fact, I recently became aware of a reverse mortgage company that is promoting their services along side a major casino. Reverse mortgages have an important place in elder law planning. They are a financial tool to protect an elders standard of living, dignity and sense of place in remaining in their own home. Reverse mortgages are not a remedy of last resort. By advertising reverse mortgages in a context of gambling is mercenary and solicitous of the very people who need sound financial planning and advice from a competent elder law lawyer.

A casino in Connecticut that advertises heavily in the Boston market, Mohegan Sun, offers this new innovation:

************[from MoheganSun.com]*************"It’s the latest trend in slot machines and only Mohegan Sun has it. The Northeast’s premier entertainment destination installs 20 half-cent slot machines in its Casino of the Earth and Casino of the Sky. This makes Mohegan Sun the only destination in the United States to offer this new technology.

This latest offering allows customers to wager half a cent instead of the traditional quarter, dollar or even penny it’s just another way Mohegan Sun is revolutionizing the gaming industry.**************

You read it right. HALF-cent machines. Boy, they sure are revolutionizing the gaming industry. And legislators say that casinos are not preying on the elderly? The poor? The stupid? (I personally believe that stupid people should be protected from themselves when at all possible.) Apparently the government is so blinded by the voluntary tax dollars that pour into state coffers that they don’t see the societal and financial evil brought on by the wholesale distribution of false hope and deus ex machina for sad lives. This is the same government that cannot provide long term care without impoverishing its people, cannot offer even a remotely intelligible drug benefit for Medicare recipients and is afraid to impose meaningful taxes on the very rich. I imagine there are many casino owners in that category – they are easy to recognize, they are laughing and like a heroin dealer that never shoots up, you won’t see them pulling the handle of that revolutionary half penny machine. We don’t need more casinos.. We don’t need any casinos. I think we need some new ideas.

As many know, I love inventions. My latest invention? The Jackpot Emulator ™. I see this as a Medicare reimbursable device not unlike a prosthetic or a wheelchair. Like a slot machine in every way, but the JE does not require the payment of any money, nor does it pay out any money, but rather brightly colored slips of paper that exclaim – YOU’RE A WINNER!! For the cost of the machine and a little electricity we could set up Jackpot Emulator ™ rooms in nursing homes and senior centers where elders could push buttons and hear whirring happy sounds to their hearts’ content and then go home with he satisfaction of being a "winner" with no possible way of putting their personal financial security at risk.

Now that is revolutionary.

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