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.
If you're a caregiver, the work can seem endless and the responsibilities overwhelming. You might feel like you're facing it completely alone.
But that's not the case. No matter what your situation -- in terms of your family support and finances -- you can get help. It's out there. Caregivers just need to know how -- and where -- to ask for it.
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.
"They have lived an exemplary life, worked hard, taken care
of their family, educated their children, and did all the right things only to
find themselves after retirement involved in an activity they can't
control," Fowler says.
"Many are looking for an escape from all sorts of losses in
their lives, whether loss of a spouse, a profession (after retirement), their
health, their physical abilities, their physical beauty. Gambling is one
activity they can engage in regardless of physical problems. There aren't many
other activities that are stimulating and exciting that they can do; gambling
is one of the few left," she says.
"The danger is for those who lose control over gambling,
because the impact that it has on their life is different than for their
younger counterparts," Fowler says. "They can't start a new profession
or build a new nest egg. It's just not a possibility for most of these folks,
so the impact is permanent."
Still the situation is not hopeless, she says. "You may not
be able to recoup the financial loss, but you certainly can recuperate or
recover your life."