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It’s Not Just a Penny Slot Machine: Gambling Addiction in Seniors

Published: September 25, 2017

Gambling and Seniors

Casinos have changed alot over the last 20 years and are drawing seniors in by offering personalized discounts, free transportation and an environment that is very easy for those with disabilities to navigate.

Many casinos offer mobility devices such as scooters or wheelchairs and some even offer oxygen for their older clients. Seniors receive mail from the casinos on their birthdays or “we have missed you” cards if they have gone longer than usual between visits. Slot machines have evolved from a simple screen of rolling numbers to full sensory experiences including animation, flashing lights and vibrating chairs which draw attention to a win and not so incidentally to the senior sitting at the machine.

All of these perks add to the allure of gambling, and it can be easy for a parent to develop a need for the excitement and sense of belonging that casinos offer.

You may think that your parent is too cautious or rational to be caught in the gambling trap but the reasons for seniors playing slots in casinos or other games of chance are as varied and individualized as the seniors themselves. Some seniors are hoping for the “big win” to supplement their meager retirement savings, some seniors are distracting themselves from physical ailments and losses and some become addicted to gambling because of underlying health issues. For some seniors, out of character gambling may be an early symptom of dementia or other cognitive issues. Seniors who are on certain dopamine antagonist medications for Parkinson’s Disease and other movement disorders may be at risk for behaviors such as compulsive gambling.

Gambling Addiction in Seniors

Gambling addiction can be difficult to recognize, but if you feel your dad or mom may have a gambling issue, than ask yourself these questions about your parents:

  • Are they repeatedly asking for loans because they have lost their wallet, someone made a mistake in their bank account, etc.?
  • Are you seeing more doctor visits or hospitalizations?
  • Has your parent dropped other hobbies or recreational activities?
  • Have you noticed a change in hygiene or self-care?
  • Is there less food in their refrigerator or cupboard than is customary?
  • Is your parent receiving calls regarding past due utilities or other bills?
  • Is your parent showing poor decision making skills in other areas of their life?

Parents may not be willing to discuss gambling due to embarrassment at their inability to control their gambling, fears about losing respect of others, or worry that they will further lose their independence. Your parent may also not want to deal with the emotional and stressful issues which led to their behavior and deny that they have any sort of problem, gambling or otherwise. If your parent has cognitive issues — which cause lack of foresight — or no longer understand consequences, they may not even realize the significance of their financial losses.

Gambling is an even bigger financial issue for seniors than it is for younger gamblers simply because a senior isn’t going to have time to rebuild their retirement funds. Health issues can arise if a senior is gambling away money that should have been spent on medication or is spending too much time in a smoke-filled casino. Depression and shame are common with senior gamblers who feel they should be able to control their gambling or who are becoming alienated from family due to arguments about gambling.

If you recognize problem gambling symptoms in your parent, there are steps you can take to help them recover and still enjoy their retirement.

Treatment options for senior gamblers should take into account the emotional reasons behind their gambling. In case of seniors with cognitive issues or dementia, it may be beneficial to have a trusted family member or friend manage finances in addition to limiting the senior’s spending money.

There are many resources for seniors seeking help with problem gambling as well as information for their family members who are affected. The National Council on Problem Gambling has a list of programs and treatment options in the U.S. and the Problem Gambling Institute of Ontario has a list of Canadian resources.




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