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Seniors and Problem Gambling

Seniors have lower rates of problem gambling than adults in the general population – however, certain subgroups of older adults may be at increased risk to develop gambling problems and because of the life-stage, the financial consequences of problem gambling can be particularly devastating to a senior citizen.

Why Do Seniors Gamble?

The vast majority of older adults gamble for recreation and have few if any problems from their gambling behaviors. Seniors may be attracted to gambling because:

  • Trips to gambling venues such as casinos or bingo halls provide an opportunity to socialize.
  • Gambling venues often work to attract this subgroup of people, by offering amenities such as free transport, free or discounted meals and other bonuses to seniors who come to gamble
  • Seniors often have more free time to fill and are sometimes prone to boredom – gambling can fill the hours with excitement

Older adults may lose the physical capacity to engage in hobbies and recreational activities that were once enjoyed. Because gambling takes very little physical strength or ability, it can fill this activity void.

Why Are Some Seniors More Vulnerable to Problem Gambling?

Some seniors may be especially vulnerable to developing a gambling problem. Situations that may put an older adult at risk include:

  • Losing a spouse
  • Loneliness
  • Dealing poorly with retirement
  • Health problems that limit participation in other activities
  • Having financial problems
  • Cognitive declines that may impair judgment
  • Others

The Consequences of Problem Gambling for Seniors

In one research study, which compared the percentage of income spent on gambling by problem gamblers of differing age groups, it was found that problem gambling women aged 35 – 55 spent, on average, 77% of their total monthly income on gambling. By contrast, among problem gambling women aged 56 and up, the average monthly expenditure equaled 249% of monthly income!

Older adults are more likely living on a fixed income and once retired or with few working years ahead of them, the consequences of a loss of life savings or the loss of a paid-for house can be severe. Other consequences can include an inability to pay for needed medical care or medications, the need for a financial bail-out from family members, the possibility of committing illegal acts to finance their gambling habit, stress and ill-health and more.1

Because of this and because problem gamblers rarely recognize the early warning signs of a gambling problem, family members should be on the lookout for warning signs of a gambling problem. Some signs to watch for include:

  • Unaccounted for blocks of time
  • Unexplained money problems
  • The sudden disappearance or sale of valuables
  • Avoiding friends or relatives
  • Discontinuing activities that were once enjoyed to spend more time gambling
  • Lying about time or money spent gambling
  • Changes in personality
  • Signs of neglecting hygiene or personal appearance2

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