Gambling addiction can destroy a senior’s golden years. Older Americans are now the fastest-growing segment of gambling addicts, according to the AARP. There’s no question that casinos contribute to senior gambling addiction.
While online gambling is prohibited in Missouri, riverboat casino gambling has lured seniors for decades. In fact, Missouri was recently ranked as the 16th most gambling-addicted state.
As lawmakers consider Missouri sports betting, ways to combat senior gambling addiction should also be considered.
Seniors are more at risk of gambling addiction
Studies have found that the older population is more at risk than the general population. Major life changes increase vulnerability to an addiction like gambling. Most seniors experience several life changes as they age.
Even someone who has never gambled may develop a gambling addiction later in life. A review of senior gambling research by Frontiers in Psychiatry in 2019 found that among senior gamblers:
- 80% are seeking out entertainment and enjoyment.
- 38% percent said gambling distracts them from their everyday problems.
- Older people often visit casinos to make social connections.
- Factors relevant to problem gambling include living alone, marital separation or divorce, and being socially isolated.
The loss generation
There are several factors that contribute to senior gambling addiction:
- Loss of loved ones (“Grief gambling” is a term used in legal cases.)
- A loss of independence
- A loss of vocation
- Losing physical capabilities
- A loss of income because of retirement
- Impending loss of one’s own life
Cognitive decline might also contribute. John Grant, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at the University of Chicago, said age can bring a decline in “the decision-making parts of the brain related to executive functioning.”
Interestingly, some of the perks of aging could be factors in gambling addiction. Seniors have more free time. Many times, they also have extra money. Other financial obligations, like children, have gone away
Casinos contribute to senior gambling addiction
Like most gamblers, seniors find gambling fun and exciting. Bingo and casinos have surpassed movies, shopping, golf, and lunch as popular pastimes for people over 65, according to CoalitionforAging.com.
Grant of UChicago told AARP:
“Casinos are full of sights and sounds where older people can feel safe. They’re handicapped accessible. You can go in any kind of weather.”
Retirementandgoodliving.com cites a rather alarming thought by journalist Gary Rivlin. Casinos may provide “daycare for the elderly.” He’s not alone. According to Griswold Home Care, some experts call casinos “the new senior centers.”
Enticements lure seniors to casinos
But as the former site points out, casinos exist to make profits, not provide social services. Casinos offer several enticements to senior players:
- Free round-trip transportation
- Player promotions
- Free or discounted meals and entertainment
Some casinos even offer diabetic needle disposal and oxygen in bathrooms. Some offer discounted medication coupons, and wheelchairs and scooters. Casinos target seniors to fill their casinos during daytime hours when other patrons are at work.
Casinos send out birthday reminders or wishes. Many times they even offer enticements to visit on a birthday.
Casinos have even sent private jets to transport high rollers. They are known in the industry as “whales.”
Senior gambling by the numbers
Patrons age 50 and over account for half of all casino visitors, according to recoveryranch.com. Robert Hunter, psychologist, and director of the Problem Gambling Center in Las Vegas told AARP about 40% of people in his center treated for gambling addiction were seniors. He said, “many people got into trouble after retiring.”
Research a few years ago by the University of Pennsylvania revealed that almost 75% of people over 65 had gone gambling within the past year. Ten percent of those admitted they’d lost more money than they could afford.
Gambling addiction hurts seniors more
The financial results of gambling addiction may prove harder to come back from for a retired senior than for someone working. The review by Frontiers in Psychiatry echoes this:
“It [a gambling disorder] has the potential to cause extreme harm because of a lack of resources to recover from the negative consequences of gambling.”
Medical issues can accompany senior gambling addiction. Research has shown that compulsive gamblers visit emergency rooms more than those of the same age who don’t gamble often. According to connellylaw.com, causal factors include:
- Neglecting medications. (Including not having money to pay for them because of money spent gambling.)
- Exposure to second-hand casino smoke.
- Lack of exercise.
Loneliness makes seniors especially vulnerable
Loneliness ranks as a huge factor in seniors’ gambling addiction. Isolation looks “poised to become one of the most serious health issues faced by older Americans,” according to Medicareadvantage.com. It’s worsened with the pandemic.
The site says 18% of adults 65 up live by themselves, and 43% report feeling lonely regularly. Attention from casino staff may be the only attention a senior receives.
Women living longer, gambling later
The climbing addiction rate among senior gamblers is higher for women. For starters, women tend to outlive men. And the loss of a spouse may trigger addiction in later life.
The Frontiers in Psychiatry review mirrors this theory. It says women over 60 “have a risk that is equal to, or even higher than, that of men in the same age group.”
And, the review goes on to say that women over 75 tend to be most susceptible to marketing offers.
Seniors getting hooked online
The growing availability of online gambling presents another chance to increase senior gambling addiction. According to connellylaw.com, the reasons include:
- Someone can gamble online at home where their absence won’t be noticed.
- Credit access is “just a click away.”
- Easy to gamble on impulse, without time to think about it.
- Treatment can’t really limit exposure to the gambling environment.
- Electronic money doesn’t feel tangible like real money gambling at casinos.
Problem gambling warning signs and how to get help
Some of the warning signs for senior gambling addiction to watch for:
- Selling or pawning valuable possessions with no explanation.
- Withdrawn, often unavailable.
- Bragging about wins but never talking about losses.
- Vague descriptions of how someone spends their days.
- Using retirement funds and other savings to gamble.
- Resorting to illegal actions to finance gambling (forgery, fraud).
The National Gambling Hotline is available 24/7 at 800-522-4700. Missourians seeking help with problem gambling can also call 888-BETS OFF.
It’s casinos, however, that need to work harder to combat the problem. Casinos contribute to senior addiction to gambling in many ways. Solutions begin there.