- Written by Barbara Bodzin, Executive Director
- Published: 25 October 2018
Older Americans are the fastest growing segment of compulsive gamblers
The long-awaited MGM Springfield opened in August and has become a new destination for area adult communities, assisted living centers and even churches who organize outings to nearby casinos. For most, it is a day of fun and socialization. For some elders who need to limit activities due to health conditions, it is an exhilarating and accessible activity to enjoy. However, for about eight percent, compulsive gambling is an addiction that can cost elders their retirement nest egg, and it is anticipated with the opening of the MGM, our communities will see a spike in numbers.
"About 40 percent of the people we see are over 50," says psychologist Robert Hunter, who directs the Problem Gambling Center in Las Vegas. The number of casinos has exploded over the past few decades, and today casinos operate in more than 30 states. Add state lotteries, Powerball and now Internet gambling sites, and there are plenty of ways to try your luck and lose a little cash.
The nation's $40 billion a year gambling industry aggressively targets older customers, as they have accumulated wealth and are especially vulnerable, experts say, to wagering more than they can afford.
Rachel Volberg, a UMass researcher who studies gambling trends in the state, found a quarter of those she polled who have gambling problems said they’d like to get help. However, most do not seek out support. "Internationally, we know that problem gambling is associated with a great deal of stigma and shame,” says Volberg, “and people much, much prefer to try and manage it by themselves.”
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. However, “we consider it the hidden, or invisible, addiction,” said Marlene Warner, who runs the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling. “You don't come home with track marks in your arms. You might come home a little bloodshot, because you've been at the casino several days, but it's just not revealing itself in the same way that another addiction would.”
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. "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.
Older people with dementia are at especially high risk because they are unable to recognize limitations or use appropriate judgments. Psychologists also suspect that people are more likely to run into problems if they turn to gambling for the wrong reasons – to escape loneliness, depression or even chronic pain.
Warning signs of gambling addiction include:
- social withdrawal
- borrowing from friends and family
- gambling with money meant for food, rent, or medicine
- gambling on credit
- already struggling with some form of addiction
- lying about or hiding gambling
To find help, contact the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling at 1-800-426-1234. They aim to reduce the impacts of gambling disorder and strive to make gambling healthy and safe for the people of Massachusetts.