Senior Citizens And Gambling

Lottery tickets, bingo, mail order sweepstakes, slot machines...Gambling...a little entertainment, harmless fun......

For many, gambling is a fun activity, but for those who become addicted to gambling, it is a devastating disease. Problem Gambling is a hidden illness and it is even more so for the older adult. Compulsive Gambling is a progressive disorder causing a psychologically uncontrollable preoccupation and urge to gamble. Individuals eventually lose the ability to control the impulse to gamble. This results in excessive gambling which can compromise, disrupt or damage personal, family or employment pursuits. It is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as an Impulse Control Disorder. An estimated 5-7% of the population suffers from gambling problems.

Although there has been no National or State study done yet on gambling among older adults, gambling Helpline counselors throughout our nation report that gambling by senior citizens is on the rise. In the past, gambling declined with age, but now more seniors are able to gamble as the availability of gambling increases.

Legalized gambling has expanded dramatically in recent years. Corner quick-stop stations and grocery stores sell lottery tickets. Casinos run specials with senior citizen discount coupons. Bus trips are often free or at low cost and vouchers to gamble are supplied by the company sponsoring the bus trip. Church raffles and bingo help raise much -needed funding for church and school programs. Magazine sweepstakes received in the mail offer the chance to be a millionaire.

Older adults gamble for a variety of reasons. At a time when there is often not a lot of excitement in an older person's life, gambling allows a person to take some risk. Seniors may be lonely or bored after the loss of a spouse or retirement. They may be looking for a way to compensate for a limited retirement income or just looking to be with peers as a social outlet.

For whatever reason seniors choose to gamble, many have never gambled before or if they have, only in a limited way, and most are totally unaware of any potential for adverse consequences. Therefore, when they begin to encounter problems, they are often confused about their own behavior and are embarrassed that they cannot control the activity. They are reluctant to go for help because they think at their age they should know better. They are most often unaware of what pathological gambling is and have no idea there is help available or where to get it.

Some older adults are gambling more than they should. They are gambling funds needed for food and in some cases, medication. Some are gambling away retirements, homes and sometimes even their lives. When approached by adult children or friends, they are often reluctant to discuss the problem and resent the intrusion with an attitude of It's my money, I will spend it any way I want."

A gambling problem may remain invisible until the gambler's life starts to fall apart. Symptoms of senior problem gambling may include: changes in normal communication with family members, frequent unexplained absences, repeatedly borrowing money, paying bills late, frequent illness due to failure to buy needed mediation, personality changes, neglecting finances and health, avoids talking about or denies gambling.

Although compulsive gambling is a serious addiction and very often can ruin people financially and emotionally, there is help available. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, contact the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-426-2535. The Helpline is answered 24-hours a day.

For more topics that interest the older adult, go to the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups.