OLDER GAMBLERS
Associated Press/Carol Phelps
The casino industry commands $37 billion in annual revenue. As far as competitive pastimes go, Americans spend more money on gambling than we do on professional sports. And if it's the rush that's the draw, there's no competition: We shell out $9 billion more on gambling than we spend on coffee and video games combined each year.

But when you dig into the demographics of gambling, a troubling trend emerges.

Among senior citizens, gambling is a primary social outlet -- more so than outings to museums, libraries, and zoos, according to one survey of activity directors from senior centers, assisted-care retirement centers, nursing homes, and church groups.

Casino visitation rates among the elderly are surprisingly high, with 28 percent of people aged 65 and older reporting having gone to a casino in 2012, and and 36 percent of those between ages 50 and 64 report having done so, according to the American Gaming Association's 2013 Survey of Casino Entertainment. And University of Pennsylvania researcher David Oslin told Psychology Today that his research revealed that 70 percent of those 65 or older said they had gambled in the previous year -- with nearly 10 percent admitting to gambling away more than they could afford to lose.

'Hospitality to the Vulnerable'

By 2030, there will be more than 72 million people aged 65 and older -- that's nearly double the number in that demographic in 2009 (the latest year for which data is available). The trend has the association on the defensive, promoting studies that assure that gambling is not "a major threat to the elderly" and it offers "excitement and entertainment" and an expression of "personal freedom."

But, as a new investigative report from the Institute for American Values argues it's more than just an innocent pastime for many seniors. (The nonpartisan, nonprofit institute focuses on initiatives to "renew civil society and end the culture wars.")

Amy Ziettlow, the report's author, admits it's not hard to see why seniors are so eager to frequent casinos. They're enticed by deals (a full breakfast buffet $3) and welcomed with wheelchairs or motorized scooters, and they feel at home in facilities stocked with deposit boxes for diabetic needles and supplies of adult diapers. All of which she calls a sort of "hospitality to the vulnerable."

Casino loyalty provide patrons a sense of belonging, but economics professor John Kindt told Ziettlow that they merely track patrons' activities so that targeted marketing can lure them back. Her experience was laden with depressing anecdotes of seniors telling her they were merely "passing the time" and reasoning, "What else is there to do?" All of which left her wondering why casinos were so friendly. And whether the hobby was as innocent as the industry alleges.

What Can Be Done?

The primary risk that seniors face when gambling (and according to Psychology Today, as many as 4 million seniors do have a serious gambling problem) is that they may not be aware of what they're doing and why -- which can transform into an unhealthy physical and financial addiction.

Some are lonely and enjoy interaction with the smiling faces working at a casino. Others suffer from dementia, a condition that weakens inhibitions, and gamble away more than they can afford. Still others sign up for activity clubs that revolve around regular trips to casinos. But because the median senior lives on a fixed income of roughly $35,000 a year, one day of overindulgence could mean the difference between being able to eat at the end of the month and going hungry.

If you're concerned that seniors you know ares at risk for gambling problems, have a discussion. But keep in mind that addiction usually indicates a deeper problem.

Help them find more fulfilling outlets for their energy or need to interact (gardening, a pet, volunteering, book clubs, etc.). If you have the means, offer to fund the new hobby. Look for senior activity groups within your community that offer regular, enjoyable events.

Of course, you should also make sure that, as you age, you avoid falling into the casino trap by taking similar steps. If you enjoy an occasional trip to the casino, adhere to a budge. Go light on alcoholic drinks that could convince you to spend more than you intended. And leave the rest of your money (or ways to get money) at home so you have no way to gamble past your limit.

Adam Wiederman is a Motley Fool contributing writer.‚Äč

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Managing your Portfolio

Keeping your portfolio and financial life fit!

View Course »

Understanding Credit Scores

Credit scores matter -- learn how to improve your score.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

77 Comments

Filter by:
alfredschrader

Gambling is not a way to make some extra money. Many seniors are obsessed with slot machines.
So, go to the Vegas warehouse strip and buy a couple of slot machines ! Set them up at home and keep the coin box key handy. You always win ! And, you can play all day for free.

March 19 2014 at 6:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
georgii1

70% admit gambling in the past year and 10% of those over did it - that doesn't sound bad to me at all. From my read, they are including people that have purchased a lottery ticket in the past year? Gotta figure some people are going to gamble to excess, just like some eat to excess, or shop to excess; but I sure wouldn't lump someone buying an occasional lottery ticket in with gamblers. Plus, given the state of many retirees after wall street gambled away their savings that might be the cheapest entertainment left. Plus, what do they think seniors should be doing with their money? They probably done with zoos and libaries, and they probably done with hobbies too. If they can't come up with better suggestions than those I wonder what they think those seniors should be doing with their money?

March 19 2014 at 6:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Larry

casinos are rigged you have no chance BUT you can beat the ponnies
$200 to $500 a day. i do it every day no i am not selling anything. my advice, learn the game , its not that hard. you can do it !

March 19 2014 at 5:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ccurt78

The maindrive and focus is the average senior I know, first does NOT have 35 thousand dollars a year to live on. And feel the politicians have sold us out. Due to both my wife and I having Cancer, what life savings we had is long gone to pay for over priced medicine and treatments. We barely exist on our Social Security now, ( combined 1265.00 a month before deductions for medicare and supplemental insurence ) which is around 50% of our total income ! We don't gamble except for an occasional lottery ticket ( can't really afford that, but it gives you HOPE for a short while, WHEN you have NO voice with the politicians ( who work for the higest bidder, clue not us ) you feel lost,hopeless and discarded. FIX that !!!!!

March 19 2014 at 5:03 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
hockensmith57

the problem is not with the people who gamble or do anything else in moderation. some people get taken in and lose control. I know someone with a gambling problem. this person gambles away her social security every month and I can feel the anguish in her voice when she says she is afraid of losing her husband if he found out. casinos are in business to take your money and they do just that with many seniors. It is their money to lose but trust me they feel horrible when they lose all their money

March 19 2014 at 12:24 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
weilunion

In a Casino economy, where people play stock markets and go into debt to secure a life everything is specualtion.

So, Americans are taught that their problems are individual, not social.

They will look to play lotteries, gamble and try to get out of a social mess individually.

Who wins? The same one percent that got them into this situation to begin with. Wall St. and the bankers.

Class consciousness is what is needed, wthin a culture that thinks they too can become rich when they just forage for food.

March 19 2014 at 12:15 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
ajschrod

I highly doubt that very many go to those extremes.

March 18 2014 at 11:59 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
cssidenver

Casinos reel seniors in by making them "special" customers. They give them name tags and the help learns to use their names and treat them as "family". They spend their retirement checks but then get credit lines. They then takeout 2nd mortgages to pay off the credit lines and get into a
spiral, always gambling more while thinking they are going to hit the big one. Many lose their homes. In any other game they would call this preying on the elderly.

March 18 2014 at 11:13 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cssidenver's comment
weilunion

Seniors are bored and broke so they look to what is and has been taught them: go it alone, sit at the black jack table where the house always wins.

March 19 2014 at 12:16 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
cincyburb01

I think the statistics may be correct when it comes to elderly women, but definitely not for elderly men. They spend their mornings loitering at McDonalds! Go into most any McDonalds in the Midwest on any morning and you will see old men gathered in groups in the dining area, one small coffee apiece, chatting away for hours on end. Go back the next day and you will see the same faces in the same seats. (Probably the same cup of coffee as the day before so they won't have to spring for a new one.) I suspect that managers will start leaving casino flyers on the tables at McDonalds, in the hopes of getting rid of the loiterers.

March 18 2014 at 10:02 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cincyburb01's comment
ezspin42

Tell me about it. They do the same thing up here in the Northeast. I hope this isn't my future because I love their McCafe mochas, but I enjoy them just before I go to work in the afternoon. If I go there for breakfast, it's the same bunch every morning. Then they go golfing. Wazoo, what a now-brief life!

March 18 2014 at 11:12 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
classof68gto

It is said that most of those that play the lottery or gamble are the people that can least afford it.

March 18 2014 at 9:53 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to classof68gto's comment
weilunion

Sure, they are gamblsing their medicine money for they have no clas consciousness, they do not know who is 'gaming' them

March 19 2014 at 12:17 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply