How to Know When an Older Parent Has a Gambling Problem 

Photo of senior man sitting at a row of slot machines

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By Jim Miller

(SAVVY SENIOR) Problem gambling among older adults is unfortunately on the rise. Studies suggest that more than 4 million Americans age 65 and older could have a gambling problem. 

Seniors have time and money on their hands, and the influx of casinos that have cropped up around the country have made access to gambling much more convenient. 

Here’s what you should know, along with some tips and resources for helping a senior family member with a gambling problem.

Problem Gambling 

For most older adults, gambling is simply a fun recreational activity, but for those who become addicted, it can be a devastating disease that can financially wipe them out. 

There are a number of reasons why seniors can be vulnerable to gambling problems. For starters, casinos often cater to seniors, enticing them with free bus transportation, free drinks, discounted meals, special rewards, and other prizes.

In addition, many seniors use gambling as a way to distract or escape feelings of loneliness, depression, or even chronic health conditions 

Some may have financial problems they are seeking to overcome, while others may have cognitive impairments that interfere with their ability to make sound decisions.

Adding to the problem is that many seniors may not understand addiction, making them less likely to identify a gambling problem. They may be confused or embarrassed that they can’t control their urges to gamble and are reluctant to seek help, because they think at their age they should know better. 

Even if they recognize they have a problem, they may not know that help is available or where to get it.

Playing the Slots

While people can become hooked on any number of gambling options, casino slot machines are far and away the most popular among seniors. 

Today’s slot machines are much more addictive than the old machines with spinning lemons, cherries and melons. Many of today’s slot machines offer intense sensory stimulation with large video screens, music, and vibrating, ergonomic chairs. 

Getting Help

How can you know a loved one has a gambling problem? Gamblers Anonymous offers a 20-question online test at GamblersAnonymous.org that helps determine if a person has a problem. In the meantime, here are some questions you can ask to help evaluate the situation.

Is your loved one preoccupied with gambling, constantly talking about it, or planning to gamble, versus doing normal activities?

Is your loved one gambling more and more money to get the same level of excitement? 

Is your loved one using retirement funds or other savings to gamble, or pawning or selling personal items to get money to gamble with? 

Has your loved one lost control to the point that he can’t set a limit of time and money to spend in the casino and stick to it? 

Does your loved one become uncomfortable, angry, or lie when asked about gambling activities?

Answering yes to any of these questions may indicate a problem. To find help, contact the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPgambling.org), a non-profit organization that operates a 24-hour national hotline at (800) 522-4700. They can direct you to resources in your area, including counselors who have been trained through the National Certified Gambler Counseling Program. ISI

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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