Seniors and Problem Gambling: A Growing Addiction

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Opportunities to gamble present themselves to all Americans of any age and from all walks of life. From gambling meccas like Atlantic City and Las Vegas, to local casinos and online gaming, gambling is available to nearly everyone. Some people, though, are targeted more often than others. Senior citizens, retirees with no day jobs and with pension money and Social Security income, are easy targets for the industry. If you have an older loved one, be aware of the risks of gambling, the possibility of addiction and the fact that she and her money are being targeted.

Seniors and Gambling

Anyone who has been to a casino knows that a significant part of the gaming population is comprised of seniors. The elder members of our communities may be drawn to gambling for several reasons. They have time and some extra money to spend. Many also find gambling exciting. Retirees may go through a period of boredom after spending 30 or more years working five days a week. Going to casinos can be a thrill, especially when there is an occasional win. Trips to casinos can also be a way to socialize, another aspect of life that tends to drop off after retiring.

Seniors have certain motivations to gamble. So is it really true that they are doing it more often than other demographics? The answer is yes. Seniors are the fastest growing demographic engaging in gambling. Furthermore, half of all visitors to casinos are over the age of 50, and 70 percent of seniors report having gambled in the last year. With the baby boomer generation still in the retirement phase, these numbers are expected to continue rising.

The Role of the Industry

Seniors may be engaging in gambling more than any other age group, but is the industry really targeting them? The gaming industry naturally has an interest in getting more seniors into casinos. The more they spend, the more the casinos earn. Access to casinos is always increasing, with new facilities popping up all the time; and they’re catering to seniors. Casinos are offering such services as oxygen in the bathrooms, diabetic needle disposal, scooters and wheelchairs, and birthday reminders to celebrate with a win.

The Risks and Dangers

For many seniors, gambling can be a fun, occasional and social activity. The infrequent bus trip to the casino does not always have to be a bad thing. There are risks, however, that are particular to seniors. Anyone is at risk for a gambling addiction, but developing this problem is more likely when a person is going through a major life change. The social isolation that often occurs after retirement, even the process of aging itself can make seniors more vulnerable to developing a problem with gambling. Seniors are also more vulnerable in that their cognitive functioning is in decline. Some may even have unrecognized symptoms of dementia. Making good choices is not as easy as it once was.

A senior who does develop a gambling addiction may end up in more financial trouble than a younger person. Seniors no longer have regular income beyond pensions, Social Security or retirement accounts. They are less able to recover from a major financial loss than someone who is still in the work force.

Recognizing the Problem and Getting Help

If you have an elderly loved one who enjoys gambling, be aware of the potential risks. Help her to understand the risks she takes and encourage her to limit her time spent at casinos. Help her to find other activities that will be similarly rewarding and fun. If you do suspect that she has a problem, seek professional help before it gets worse.

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