Gambling can be a fun activity for adults of all ages. Many people enjoy going to bingo, picking teams in an office pool, or dreaming of lottery winnings. For seniors, especially, a bingo parlor or casino can be a great opportunity for socializing and a pleasant outing.

The majority of people gamble responsibly, but the pastime can turn into a problem. By one definition, people with a gambling problem are those who risk more than they can afford to lose. Many seniors realize they’re in trouble when they start gambling away funds needed for rent, food, prescriptions, and bills.

It can be difficult to identify an older person’s excessive gambling. Many adult children don’t know how their parents spend their time or money and don’t realize the scope of the gambling problem until they help them pay bills or review their spending. The signs of a gambling problem may be subtle, but there are some warning signs to watch for. An older person who preoccupied with gambling may be at risk, and relatives should worry when gambling starts to replace long-established regular activities.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, any of the following traits can also signal a gambling problem. Problem gamblers will display five or more of these characteristics, but even one or two of these signs may be a signal that help is needed.

  • Being preoccupied with gambling (e.g., spending all one’s time reminiscing about past gambling experiences, planning the next outing, or thinking about ways to get gambling money)
  • Having to increase the stakes to maintain excitement
  • Repeatedly failing to stop or cut back on gambling
  • Becoming irritable when trying to cut back on gambling
  • Using gambling as an escape from feelings of anxiety and depression
  • Gambling to make up for recent losses (“chasing” one’s losses)
  • Lying to hide gambling activities
  • Resorting to illegal acts such as forgery or fraud to finance gambling
  • Risking or losing a relationship or job because of gambling
  • Borrowing money from others to make up for gambling losses

How common are gambling problems among seniors?

Seniors are essential to the gambling industry. Companies regularly offer casino vacations geared toward seniors and casinos provide perks and senior discounts to them. As gambling opportunities have increased with the increased prevalence of casinos and venues to use VLTs, more and more seniors are gambling.

Seniors may do more than their share of gambling, but they are probably no more likely than others to become hooked, according to studies which show that roughly 3 percent to 5 percent of all gamblers, regardless of age, will develop gambling problems. But as increased numbers of seniors take up gambling, more will develop problems related to gambling.

What increases the risk of a gambling problem?

Unlike younger gamblers, who go to casinos looking for action and excitement, many seniors will use gambling as an escape. The great majority of older compulsive gamblers also suffer from mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. People who have recently lost a spouse, were diagnosed with a serious illness, or went through some other stressful event are also at higher risk.

What can be done about a gambling problem?

If you know anyone who shows signs of compulsive gambling, talk to him or her about the problem. Many older people manage to cut back or quit gambling on their own once they recognize the situation. Others need expert help. Counselling is often the best treatment for seniors with gambling problems. Group therapy, such as the 12-step program offered by Gambler’s Anonymous, can be highly effective as well.