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Is Grandma gambling away her retirement?

The gambling industry targets seniors, and sometimes the consequences can be devastating for their finances.

By MSN Money Partner Feb 19, 2014 2:19PM

This post comes from Marilyn Lewis at partner site Money Talks News.

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyWhat the heck was up with the 73-year-old man who allegedly pulled black underwear over his face, grabbed a shotgun and held up a Fort Pierce, Fla., bank recently?

Gambling, that's what. The man told authorities he needed money "because he's on a fixed income and had gambled his money away on horses and Texas Hold 'em," says an Associated Press report.

Senior woman © CorbisHomeless and still gambling

It's terrifying to think of spending your old age in poverty because you gambled away your savings and home. But that's the reality for many seniors for whom compulsive gambling compounds the difficulties of old age.

Financially, the effects are "massive" for seniors and their families, says Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling in Washington, D.C. "In one day you can gamble away your entire retirement."

Personal finance columnist Liz Weston wrote on MSN Money that "the explosion of legal gambling opportunities in recent decades poses a particular danger for seniors, who are often on a fixed income and don’t have future working years to make up for any losses."

Whyte tells of an older Maryland woman whose husband took out "multiple" mortgages on their home to finance his lottery habit. Her first inkling of the problem was the foreclosure notice before they lost their home. The couple's adult children took her in to live with them but not him, because he denied he had a problem. At 75 he became homeless.

"That was five years ago," Whyte says. "The last I heard he was still gambling."

Target: Seniors

Gambling -- or gaming, as casinos often call it -- is a popular recreation for older Americans. Senior centers, church groups and clubs frequently sponsor trips to casinos with their welcoming lights, activity, safety, dining, entertainment and socializing. For most, it's recreation.

But for the minority who develop an addiction, the consequences can be devastating.

Gambling helps them, momentarily, to forget the grief, losses and many difficulties that can be part of old age. But older people with dementia "are at especially high risk because they are unable to recognize limitations or use appropriate judgments," says the AARP Bulletin, adding:

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. The enticements range from free bus trips, meals and even discount prescription cards to "comped" hotel accommodations.


An estimated 1 percent of Americans are addicted to gambling and another 4 million to 6 million are believed to have some symptoms.

Statistics on addiction among seniors are hard to find, however. Psychologist Robert Hunter, director of the Problem Gambling Center in Las Vegas, told AARP that about 40 percent of his center's clients are 50 or older.

"Many of them are people who got into trouble after retiring and moving to a place where casinos are a big part of social life," Hunter said.

Some 8 million to 10 million people -- at least 60 percent of them seniors -- are bused to Atlantic City casinos each year, the executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey told The number of older gamblers is growing faster than that of any other age group, the article says.

10 signs of trouble

If you are wondering if your parent, spouse or friend is having trouble with compulsive gambling, these signals may help. Want to learn more? Read "8 Signs You’re Addicted to Gambling and 5 Tips to Stop" and take the Gamblers Anonymous quiz, "20 Questions: Are you a compulsive gambler?

A gambler may be in trouble if he or she:

  1. Can't stop.
  2. Keeps gambling after friends go home or goes gambling alone.
  3. Gambles money the person can't afford to lose.
  4. Withdraws from relationships, hobbies and favorite pastimes.
  5. Gambles to escape depression, loss, loneliness and problems.
  6. "Chases" losses by gambling more to win the money back.
  7. Hides losses and borrows money secretly.
  8. Is on an emotional roller coaster and often feels remorseful.
  9. Is out of control, even stealing or forging checks.
  10. Overdraws accounts, has past-due bills, and money is a pressing problem.

What you can do

If you love someone whose gambling is out of control, you can't stop the gambling. But you can take care of yourself, your family and your finances. This brochure (.pdf file) from the National Endowment for Financial Education and the National Council on Problem Gambling explains how to do that in detail.

If you are faced with problem gambling in your own home, above all, stay safe. "Do not try separating gamblers from access to money if you think the gambler could become verbally abusive or violent," the brochure says.

If you're helping an elder find a retirement community or home, look for one that educates residents about safe gambling habits, Whyte says.

Treatment that works

Here is good news: Treatment is effective, with a two-thirds success rate for people who adhere to a program, according to Whyte.

Here's a short list of what works. People who successfully stop:

  • Admit the problem. Experts say nothing will stop the gambling but the gambler's own determination coupled with a recovery program.
  • Turn to family, friends and treatment groups. Support is critical to stopping successfully. Contact Gamblers Anonymous (no fees or dues) for information, hot lines and meetings. Find Gam-Anon groups for families and loved ones of gamblers.
  • Get professional help. The National Council on Problem Gambling lists certified counselors. Call the 24-hour confidential help line: (800) 522-4700.
  • Control the environment. Stay away from sources of money. Turn the family bills, bank accounts, checkbooks, PINs and credit cards over to someone trusted. Stay out of harm's way by avoiding gambling entirely. "The first bet to a problem gambler is like the first small drink to an alcoholic," says Gamblers Anonymous.
More on Money Talks News:
Feb 19, 2014 9:09PM
Gambling is one way to find yourself sleeping on the streets when your cash runs out..... They are not you friends and only want your money... a little like your government.
Feb 19, 2014 6:04PM
I have seen seniors sit at slot machines for hours with a bucket load of coins. I guess that's all they have to do and it gives them a thrill once in a while if they spin the right combination and win a little bit. Maybe they think that after they're gone the kids and grandkids will only blow the rest of it if there's any left.
Feb 20, 2014 1:20AM

Do what I did -- buy your own slot machines !!


The older models can be bought in working condition for about $500.00 each.


You have the key to the machine, when it eats all your money (or tokens)

just open it up -- take out the money -- and keep playing.

Feb 19, 2014 7:23PM


I guess by my name one would know that, so when I speak about the trends and conditions of the City of  Las Vegas, or the Casino World, you could say  'I know what I'm talking about'          

Is Grandma Gambling Away Here Retirement: You can bet her "Orthopedic Nylons" she is. 

One of the busiest days at any casino is "The 5th of each Month" because all of the elderly

get their Social Security checks delivered to their banks by "The 4th of each Month".

The Casinos Cater to the Elderly:   AND HOW!!!

First the Casinos did away with "Comps" if you don't know what a comp is, (it was a way for the casinos to "Repay" you for either "Monies Spent" at their casino or "Big Winnings Won". Usually  you would get a free ticket to a show or an allowance for free food, and for the "High Roller" you could expect free accommodations at the casino while your staying their so you could have more money to spent at the table games. By doing away with the "Standard Comps" the casino came up with a new game plan "Casino ID Cards". You put this card into the machines you play..

This card would allow you to build up points in order to get (You guessed it) FREEBIES ..

In order to get this "Golden Egg " you only had to fill out an app, and this app ASKs your Name, Age , Email Address, and especially your Home Address. With this card the casino can tell "Everything They Wanted to Know About You". With this "Card" the Casino can "Key In Your Name and Know Whether Or Not You Were There and What Machine You're Playing On"   

.......THEY HAVE YOU..

 You no longer had to come to them "They Went To You" with flyers telling you all the "Great Programs" for the elderly. Giant Bingo Jackpots, Free Slot Tournaments, Great Give A Ways.. What ever it took to get you to their Casino  they would put in those mailers and "You'll Get One Each and Every Month".      For the Elderly     "It Was Like Getting A Christmas Card"

The Elderly, bought it up like candy, here's a way for them to get "Extra Income" and spend time out of the house.. It can't get any better. Until you see them walking away and you know they've just spent their lunch money for the month, or worst yet the money that was to go on their meds.

Sometimes you'll see the same seniors month after month,  some would  stop coming and a "New Face" shows up, full of hopes and "Great Expectations" and the cycle begins all over..

Seniors losing everything they saved, or worse yet, losing what they don't have to lose..

Can it be Stopped ....... NO.... The seat at the machines never get cold....

Feb 19, 2014 7:28PM

I've seen not only seniors, but down and outers gamble away their mortgages, one trying to jump off the high parking garage level.

Thousands, and thousands of money thrown into a slot machine, they start crying, and at the tables one person hit her friend in the face because she was kicked out for being so drunk.  It is astounding.

The Casinos bus the homeless in for a full day of hot coffee, cheap meal, lav. priviledges and spending either their welfare check, or unemployment check---They think they are going to win, but if they win some, they think there is a bigger jackpot in the place.

I do a lot of observations at casinos, but we stay within a limit, then go home. It is just plain crazy what the thinking of a real gambler is; mindset.  Nothing is for FREE.  It's an "Adult Disneyland".  Suckers.

Feb 20, 2014 8:25AM
It is a terrible addiction.  It is not funny and you do cry when you realize one day that you have gambled away 90% of your retirement fund.  I did it.  But, luckily I woke up before the final 10% was gone.  Now, I have admitted to my children what I have done and I am putting that behind me.  My advise:  help your parents and loved ones who are addicted.  Involve them in activities where they feel needed and where they also feel a sense of accomplishment.  This is a one day at a time rebuilding situation for me.  I may not get back all that I lost but I will be more productive with my time.
The only thing people need to remember, is these Casinos werent built with the winners money.
Feb 20, 2014 2:22AM

It all boils down to personal accountability whether your disabled, old, or have a gambling problem.  YOU are responsible for YOUR own actions and should pay the price for them. 


I like to say:  Failure to properly plan on your part should not constitute an emergency on mine.


In other words, don't expect me to bail you out from your own idiocy.

Feb 20, 2014 10:01AM
Casinos are stupid places for stupid people. Especially stupid are the people that think they will be allowed to win at an Indian Reservation casino.
Slot machines are a lot like the U.S. Government, you keep putting money into it, never really see where the money is going, hope for it to change your life for the better, hear a lot of racket going on, see that things inside are doing nothing more than spinning in circles going nowhere, realize that the money you put in usually goes to someone else, and get very little back for what you put in.
Feb 20, 2014 12:27PM
I gamble but limit my self. Yes I usually lose  People say you are throwing you money away. Well all entertainment is throwing your money away. You have to throw it some where. I could buy a ticket to the football game for hundreds of dollars or go to a show or concert, but I don't get money back either. I choose to watch football on TV and go to casino. Fortunately I can control myself. I do feel for the ones that keep spending and spending and gamble more to get more comps, not thinking that you spend hundreds or even thousands to get a free buffet or room.
Feb 20, 2014 10:58AM
Take it from one who knows. The casinos are just like the rigged carnival games. Only now they do it Digitally and the machines are set so they take in more money than they pay out. Thats right these machines are digitally programed to operate at thousands a bit per second. In one of those bits a jackpot may come but your odds are 500,000 to one.  On average you could play the same slot machine for 10 years everyday 24 hours a day and never hit. You people that gamble this is fools gold. Put your money in the bank . Then withdraw it every year and take a nice vacation. Thats what we do.
Feb 19, 2014 7:21PM
the proliferation of gambling venues is a direct inverse proportion to our economic and cultural demise
Feb 19, 2014 9:51PM
We will hear about this more and more. That is the only thing I can say about this without any hesitation or reservation. Folks, this is no laughing matter.
Feb 20, 2014 12:46PM
Put what you can afford to lose in your left pocket. Put your winnings in your right pocket. When your left pocket is empty go home and count your winnings.
To stop gambling is easy, it's just like stopping smoking, I used to smoke, woke up one day and just quit. Addicts to gambling can do the same.  These two things are not "diseases", they are choices and choices can be changed. 
Feb 20, 2014 1:58PM
I live in Reno,NV, and am retired,I am a Gambleholic,there is little to do for Seniors here but that.I have seen many older folks loose all they have,and I struggle every day with it. Gambling should be outlawed!,it is worse than drugs or alcohol,I know,I have done both!.
Feb 20, 2014 11:15AM
Obviously you don't want anyone getting hurt but separating the gambler from the money is a must if you want to save your financial life and help the gambler.Standing on the sidelines will just give the compulsive gambler open season on your hard earned savings.Contacting a Gam-Anon Chapter would be a good step to take if you have any reason to believe a loved one is a problem or compulsive gambler.
Feb 20, 2014 4:29PM

My youngest sister and her roommate have a gambling problem. They owned a three bedroom condo together and had a party when the paid off the mortgage. Within of few years of gambling they had taken several mortgages out on the condo and lost all their savings. The housing market tanked and they are way underwater on their investment.


They have conned  and cajoled family members into helping paying their bills. My siblings, parents, and I have all "loaned" my sister money to keep her in her house. I was brought up to help your family if they need it but it get difficult when the family member does not help herself out.


My sister no longer gambles but her and her friend are in such a big financial hole I do not think they will ever get out of it. It just amazes me how people can go from being flush to have nothing because of gambling.


I sometimes go to casinos with friends but never liked to gamble. I play with pocket money and know enough when to quit. Even when I am on a lucky streak I have walked away and kept the money in my pocket. I always see hundreds of seniors at the slots and gambling for hours. I wonder how many of them have a gambling problem like my sister. It saddens me to see it.

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