Gambling addiction knows no social or economic boundaries, and studies have shown that addiction rates are currently rising for seniors. As the baby boomer generation begins to move to retirement, experts believe this number will continue to rise, which presents a major socioeconomic problem that is likely to only get worse.
Why Do Seniors Gamble?
There are many reasons senior citizens (ages 65 and up) are at risk for becoming addicted to gambling. For one, gambling has been identified as one of the most common social activities among adults over 65. With trips to the casino and bingo nights becoming preferred recreational options for seniors, it is a natural reaction for addiction rates to increase.
Seniors without family or friends frequently visiting may be lonely, and no employment to occupy their time can cause boredom. Widows may also use social activities such as gambling to distract from feelings of loss.
A recent study found that 70 percent of seniors had gambled in the previous year, and that one in 10 had bet more than he or she could comfortably afford to lose.
It’s important to recognize that gambling addiction can suddenly manifest in a senior with no prior history of gambling. Seniors tend to have special vulnerabilities such as an abundance of free time as well as a need to seek relief from physical and emotional pain.
If we take a moment to consider the demographics of casino patrons, according to the American Gaming Association, 36 percent of the U.S. population ages 50 to 64 and 28 percent of individuals 65 and older visited a casino in 2012. The fastest growing group of problem gamblers is female seniors, which is mainly due to the loss of a spouse, as women often have longer lifespans than men.
Consequences of the “Hidden” Gambling of Seniors
Addicted seniors are gambling their retirement funds away, and many more live on fixed income, leading to unmanageable financial strain. Over time, seniors feel the financial burden of continued betting and often believe they must continue to gamble in order to overcome their financial stress. Once addicted, it can be very difficult to break this cycle that will eventually lead to financial ruin.
Because seniors tend to live away from their younger family members, their addiction can remain hidden for long stretches of time. How can you identify gambling addiction in seniors?
• Your senior family member or friend may appear withdrawn or frequently unavailable.
• They may be vague when describing their days and activities.
• They may have sold off their valuable belongings for unexplained reasons.
• They speak of exciting wins – but don’t ever discuss their losses.
Help is available.
If you need help, call the NYS HOPEline today. Our professionals are available 24/7 to provide advice and support, as well as point you to help in your county.
Call 1-877-8-HOPENY (that is 1-877-846-7369). There are counselors throughout New York State trained and certified in the area of gambling addiction, ready to help you on your road to recovery.
Are you interested in learning more gambling in various populations, including seniors, military members, women and more? Check out our latest e-book, “The Hidden Addiction,” and share it with others to help raise awareness about this growing issue.