Hogarty and his wife budget $100 each for their excursions. "If we go broke, we go home," Hogarty says. "You could play until you drop, but when you are on a fixed income you have to set your own standard on how much you can afford to lose."
A New York Times article described senior trips to the casino as ''day care for the elderly."
Ziettlow said casinos remind her of Chuck E. Cheese's arcade and pizza restaurant chain for kids. "Would I send my children to a day care run by Chuck E. Cheese? Would I want them in a controlled environment where the kids could play arcade games all day? No. Then why is it then OK for our 82-year-olds?"
But most think it is OK. The American Gaming Association's poll that found that 9 in 10 voters (87 percent) said "gambling is an acceptable activity."
Even Ziettlow admits that most people she spoke to in casinos say to just let people have their fun. "The seniors who gamble say, 'Well, what else do I have to do?' But I think there are better alternatives. Shame on me and our generation for not creating anything that can compete with casinos."
What Ziettlow would like to see is more involvement of older people in the mainstream of general society — meaningful outlets for fun and relaxation, where they are truly valued for who they are and not for the money they can spend. It is, in a way, also a plea for her own future.
"Why not (redirect) some of that passion and resources that go into (getting seniors into casinos) to more life-giving activities instead of channeling people into these slot machines?" she says.
Just before 5 p.m. in Wendover, the fun bus pulls up in front of the casino to take people back across the salt flats to Salt Lake City. As seniors head toward the door and out into the heat, the song "Message In a Bottle" by The Police plays: "Rescue me before I fall into despair, I'll send an S.O.S. to the world."
Donald and Marjorie are back in their seats as the bus pulls away. Marjorie thinks she broke even, and Donald says video poker and blackjack at the tables put him a little bit ahead.
"Welcome back," the friendly bus host says over the intercom. "Just sit back and enjoy the ride. I hope you all had a good time."