A Dollar and a Dream

A Dollar and a Dream

Problem Gambling in Retirement

Now that their children are grown and the mortgage nearly paid off, thousands of couples, age 60 and over, have some wiggle room in their budgets. They have income from a pension, social security and/or investments. And they have something that was in short supply a few years ago when raising a family — time. Such a combination makes travel and leisure attractive — especially when coupled with a chance to win a bit of extra cash to buy a new car, take a cruise or help with the cost of braces and private school for the grandkids.

From there thousands of retired men and women begin a slow descent into compulsive gambling, a behavior that affects the gambler, his or her family, employer and community.

Hidden Illness

According to Dr. Robert Perkinson, clinical director of Keystone Treatment Center in South Dakota, (www.robertperkinson.com) compulsive gambling “is called the hidden illness since there is neither smell on the breath nor stumbling of steps or speech. Nonetheless, a gambling addiction is as debilitating as alcohol or drug addiction.”

The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPA ) (www.ncpgambling.org) states that such activity is characterized by “increasing preoccupation with gambling, a need to bet more money more frequently, restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop, chasing losses,” and an inability to stop despite mounting debt and serious consequences to personal and family well-being.

Compulsive gambling is linked to a range of serious health problems, including obesity, heart disease, intestinal problems, fibromyalgia, migraine, depression, insomnia and other stress-related disorders.

Compulsive gamblers are also likelier than others to show up in emergency rooms, reflecting their poor health and chaotic lives. “The worse the gambling disorder, the worse the chronic health conditions we typically see,” says University of Iowa psychiatry professor Donald M. Black, M.D., one of the country’s leading experts on compulsive gambling.

In 2013, for the first time, the American Psychiatric Association officially recognized compulsive gambling as an addiction (rather than a personality disorder), acknowledging that it shares many features with alcoholism and drug addiction.

Alarmingly, in one recent study, 32 percent of problem gamblers reported that they had considered suicide within the past year.

Widespread Problem

The NCPA estimates that “two million (1 percent) of U.S. adults are estimated to meet criteria for pathological gambling in a given year. Another 4-6 million (2-3 percent) would be considered problem gamblers.” And among them are a growing number of seniors.

As recently as 70-80 years ago, gambling was illegal in the United States. Today, busloads of senior men and women from senior centers go off to Las Vegas, Reno and other cities for a weekend of gambling. Many churches hold benefit casino nights and bingo games. Friday Night Bingo has long been a popular draw for retired persons, whether or not they attend the church that sponsors it.

Not Just a Man’s Pursuit

In truth, problem gambling among women is on the rise, possibly due to the increase of card rooms, bingo halls, state lotteries, and more recently, Internet gambling — forms of betting that are particularly attractive to senior women, especially those without a mate.

Many seniors today — both men and women — also have income that is more discretionary and more leisure hours than their peers of two or three decades ago. Even if one lives in a senior living complex, retirement home or care facility, all he or she needs is a computer and a credit card to get involved with ‘invisible’ gambling.

Risking Your Health

A Short Road to Disaster

Experts say young problem gamblers still outnumber older ones. But the consequences of addiction can be more severe for seniors, who may have less time and resources to recoup their losses.

If older adults are visiting the casino with friends, that doesn’t automatically signal a crisis. But if the person is using gambling as a way to avoid pain, is preoccupied with gambling and seems unable to limit their time or the amount they spend in the casino, these could be symptoms of addiction. Better to confront the issue sooner, rather than after irreparable financial damage has been done.


Author, O’Connor, Karen, “Addicted To Shopping and Other Issues Women Have With Money” 2008

AARP, “Brain Health and Wellness:  Losing Everything to Gambling Addiction”

October 29, 2018

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