July 2, 2001 -- If you've been to a casino lately, you've no
doubt seen them: senior citizens piling out of buses and filing up before
beckoning blackjack tables and slot machines. And besides casino gaming,
there's bingo just about every night of the week, and state and national
lottery games galore, not to mention the growth of riverboat and Indian casinos
and Internet betting.
For many suspected reasons -- age-related cognitive decline,
boredom, underlying depression -- older adults seem to be more vulnerable to
problem gambling than other age groups. And for seniors on fixed incomes, the
prospects of ever fully recovering from gambling losses can be dim.
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Heather Whitson, MD, associate professor of medicine (geriatrics) at Duke University School of Medicine, shares the most effective tips.
Which is why experts in aging, gambling, and problem and
compulsive gambling met with members of the gaming industry at the University
of Florida in Gainesville last month to develop policies and procedures aimed
at identifying and helping seniors with gambling problems.
A Growing Problem
"Most seniors gamble safely, but we know that a certain
percentage will develop gambling problems in any age group, and the greater
numbers of senior citizens who participate in gambling mean that there are
greater numbers who are developing problems," says Pat Fowler, executive
director of the Florida Counsel on Compulsive Gambling.
"Certain circumstances that are present among this age
group, but not younger gamblers, may make them a bit more vulnerable," she
says. For example, seniors often have a tremendous amount of time on their
hands after retirement and have limited options in how to fill it, Fowler
In Florida, where many snowbirds go to retire, the gambling
options are almost limitless. There's bingo of every stripe -- from the corner
church to high-stakes games. There's jai alai, dog and horse racing, lucrative
lotteries, 26 floating casinos that deport twice daily and drop anchor in
international water, and six Indian reservations that provide machine gambling,
card games, and more.
Seniors thought to be at special risk include those who have
sustained recent or cumulative losses of significant others, who have undergone
a loss of status, who have undiagnosed depression, and those who have always
gambled. But for the majority of seniors who develop problems, there aren't
clear warning signs that trouble is looming.