Casino Gambles on Flu Shots

If you're not a gambler or a fan of extravagant stage shows and exotic cocktails, the Mohegan Sun Casino may have found another offering to reel you in: flu shots.

Mohegan Sun -- located on Mohegan tribal land in Uncasville, Conn. -- is offering anyone who visits the hotel and casino access to a flu and pneumonia clinic where shots for both are administered on designated days. There's a reasonable fee, but if you're a member of the casino's Player's Club, and have enough points, you can get the shots on the house.

"I know there's concern out there to get flu shots," said Connie Dinerman, health director for the tribe. "So we started planning this very early on in the year."

So is it simply a thoughtful public service, or one of the most unusual and original marketing ploys ever conceived?

A Noble Effort?

In the past, the Mohegan Tribal Health Department, which hosts the clinic, has limited the event to just one day or so. But this year it's open to all those who want to take a break from pulling one-armed bandits to take a shot in the arm themselves.

Dinerman says community flu clinics at Mohegan Sun are nothing new, but does admit this year is a little different. Still, she insists it was not conceived as a marketing tactic.

"My goal is to get them in here for the flu shots," she said. "So many people die every year from influenza, that if our department can do it, it's all for the better."

According to the Connecticut Department of Public Health, about 20 percent of flu vaccines administered there are provided by groups other than private physicians, so it's not unusual for a public facility -- in this case Mohegan Sun's Wolf Den music venue -- to be used like this.

In fact, Dinerman says that she and her team administered 250 shots in a two-hour period during the most recent clinic alone.

Targeting the Elderly

With chips constantly changing hands and slot and video poker machines with arms and buttons continuously mashed by a parade of eager digits full of germs, a casino may be a smart place to fight the flu.

But rather than targeting germophobes or health conscious gamblers, Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, suspects the casino is reeling in another portion of its clientele: the elderly.

"Whether it is or not, I don't know, but this sounds like the latest in a long trend of very specific marketing to seniors," he said.

Whyte says his group is not for or against legalized gambling, but he believes casinos market heavily to seniors.

A study done by the University of Pennsylvania and the Penn State College of Medicine found that nearly 70 percent of seniors said they gambled at least once in the last year.

"There're places in the Midwest that offer discounts on medication,and some have 'Over 55' clubs," he said. "These are people with disposable time and incomes."

Whyte says some casinos offer table games on hydraulic lifts so they're more accessible to seniors, while others have installed defibrillators.

Betting on Your Health

On Thursdays through Dec. 8, 2005, Mohegan Sun will continue to offer the shots to anyone 65 or older, as well as pregnant women, adults with chronic health conditions, health care workers and caregivers engaged in direct patient care,or for children 6 months or younger.

Flu shots are $30 and pneumonia shots will run you $46, but if you have a good day shooting craps, the cards turn in your favor or you hit it big on a one-armed bandit, it's a mere pittance.

Mohegan Sun is gambling that even though you may not walk out of its casino richer, you may at least be a bit healthier.