seniors now that gambling options are so much more prevalent than they were even 10 years ago.
What’s not debatable is how devastating such a compulsion can be. Retirees on fixed incomes have far fewer options to replace the money they lose gambling.“They can’t recoup,” said Don Hulen, executive director of the Arizona Council on Compulsive Gambling and himself a former gambler. While some can return to work, few can replace sums accumulated over a lifetime. “Sometimes they call our hotline after they’ve taken the pills to commit suicide.
Of course, most seniors can gamble without serious repercussions, and it’s certainly a popular pastime among the over-65 set. One recent study, led by University of Pennsylvania addiction researcher David Oslin, found 70% of the seniors questioned had gambled in the last year. Nationally, about 50% of all adults admitted to playing the lottery and about 25% had recently visited a casino.
A study by the state of Florida found that retirees comprise 34% of regular casino visitors, defined as those who made four or more trips a year. Many casinos send buses to senior centers to pick up potential gamblers for the day, and retirees who participate say they enjoy the camaraderie, the safe setting and the occasional thrill of winning.
“The majority by far go there, have some fun and lose a few bucks,” Hulen said. “Then they attack the cheap buffet.”
But the University of Pennsylvania study found that more than one in 10 seniors were “at risk” gamblers -- defined as those who wagered more than $100 in a single bet or more than they could afford to lose, or both.
The study, published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, didn’t attempt to define how many of these “at risk” gamblers were actually compulsive about their habit. Previous studies put the pathological gambling rate at 1% to 2% of the general population. That compares to an alcoholism rate of about 4% among all adults, and 0.24% among seniors, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
As with alcoholism and other addictions, compulsive gambling can be stopped with treatment. Gamblers Anonymous, which operates on principles similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, has meetings in most areas.