Senior Citizens and Problem Gambling Posted On

Senior citizens are at an increased risk to struggle with problem gambling. We need to educate ourselves and our community to better serve our seniors by having a stronger understanding of reasons seniors gamble, escape gambling, warning signs, and tips for helping those in need.

Reasons Seniors Gamble

Seniors gamble for two reasons: recreation and escape.  Seniors who gamble to escape are often looking to escape grief.  Grief is a huge issue for seniors, and grief plays a large role in their choices.  Grief specific to seniors may include loneliness, growing dependence, and the reality of mortality. 


People begin experiencing loss by losing pets and grandparents, their parents, aunts and uncles, and then, in their later years, friends and siblings. Therefore, seniors have lost many of their lifelong family and friends, they may be living alone in a home far from their remaining family, and they might be struggling to make new friends.  Seniors tend to be living a more and more solitary life with increasing feelings of loneliness.   

Loss of Independence

As people age they develop more limitations and become more dependent on others. One way seniors lose their independence is by losing their ability to continue enjoying hobbies and interests, like running or reading. Seniors face growing dependence other ways, such as losing their ability to cook and clean, and eventually becoming unable to perform basic daily activities.  As seniors slowly lose their sense of independence, they begin to grieve knowing that they’re slowly becoming more dependent on those around them. 

Reality of Mortality

Seniors may be faced with the idea of death every day. Some seniors may be living with other seniors who are getting sick or could be passing away. The idea of death is constantly around them, the knowledge that they’re getting older is constantly in their awareness, and they begin to grieve the idea that their days may be numbered.

Escape Gambling

Many seniors face increasing grief as their lives continue to change with age, yet they may not have the coping mechanisms to healthily face these changes.  Escape gambling is gambling as a way to escape problems by focusing on something else: gambling.  Escape gambling is dangerous because it’s cyclical and can easily transition into problem gambling. For instance, if a senior chooses to gamble to escape their grief, they may start to experience problems from gambling which will increase their grief and so they may cycle back to gambling again to deal with their increased grief.  This cycle of gambling to escape grief is difficult to break.

Warning Signs

As increasing numbers of seniors decide to gamble, more professionals, peers, and family members want to know about warning signs of problem gambling.  Ask yourself, is this senior:

  • Gambling as a means to cope with stress or grief;
  • Experiencing mood swings based on winnings and losses;
  • Experiencing impatience with loved ones because they are interrupting gambling activities;
  • Neglecting other responsibilities in order to concentrate on gambling activities;
  • Gambling with money designated for necessary expenses such as household supplies, groceries, medication, electricity and telephone;
  • Experiencing unexplained absences of household or personal items;
  • Fantasizing about big winnings to win back all past losses;
  • Lying about gambling directly or by omission;
  • Hiding gambling losses from family members;
  • Withdrawing from friends and/or family?

Helping Tips

As a person who is either a professional working with seniors, a senior’s peer, or a family member of a senior, the best thing you can do is to be aware. Be aware of risk factors, be aware of their life, and show interest in what’s going on in their lives. Ask questions about their finances, their interests and hobbies, and ask questions about their relationships and the people that are closest to them. Bear in mind asking questions may not be welcomed, but reassure seniors that you’re asking questions because you care, and because you want to make sure they’re living the best and happiest life possible.

If you believe a senior you care for is struggling with problem gambling, the best thing is to educate yourself about problem gambling.  Know The Odds has many resources including the movie Empty Spaces, and ebooks like The Hidden Addiction to help increase knowledge and the ability to spot warning signs.  You can also seek professional help by calling the New York State HOPEline to identify resources in your area. To call the HOPEline, dial 1-877-8-HOPENY (or 1-877-846-7369).