Senior Citizens—Addicted to Gambling

If you are one of the “over the hill gang,” you might already have read the article in the current issue of the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) Magazine entitled, “A Desperate Gamble.” The article begins, “It was like electronic heroin,” and then tells the story of Maureen O’Conner, a one-time champion swimmer and a former San Diego, California mayor (from 1986 to 1992), and heiress to a $50 million fortune who is now destitute after she became addicted to slot machine gambling. O’Conner’s late husband was the founder of the Jack in the Box fast food chain. Before she hit rock bottom O’ Conner was losing over $100,000 a day gambling and ending up taking every dime from a $2 million charitable foundation set up by her late husband. According to the article, O’ Conner is not alone in having become addicted to gambling.

According to “A Desperate Gamble,” many seniors become addicted to gambling because of loneliness after death of a spouse—they call it “grief gambling.” Many of these seniors are the deliberate target of some gambling houses that offer all sorts of discounts, even private jets to pick up high rollers, to separate them from their money. Some elderly gamblers get hooked trying to escape loneliness, but others have their judgment compromised as a result of certain medications that cause them not to know when to stop losing. The other aspect of gambling is that the casinos provide an atmosphere of camaraderie making elderly gamblers feel “not so alone” as they go broke thinking they can break the bank.

Gambling is a $40 billion a year industry and the industry knows that many seniors have accumulated wealth that free bus trips, free meals, and discount prescription drugs can prove to be a good bet. Then there are the seniors who already have some form of dementia who are looking for some type of change of pace or excitement. The article calls machine gambling the “crack cocaine of compulsive gambling.” The article points to the often trance-like state that the bright lights of a slot machine can put a gambler into causing them to “zone out” feeding the machine more and more money—until the gambler is broke. The column has an insert of “Big Losers” that included Charles Barkley who once lost $2.5 million at a blackjack table in six hours. Other “big losers” included Gladys Knight who had a $40,000 a night addiction to a game called baccarat. One man named Terry Watanabe, former president of a family party-favor import business in Omaha, Nebraska, lost $205 million, including losing $120 million in 2007.

The article recommends that gamblers get help before they wind up sleeping in a cardboard box on the streets. For families of the gamblers, outside help might be needed to stop the addiction before it goes too far. As with most addictions, the person in trouble is often in denial, is defensive, will claim his or right to “independence” and freedom from the control of others. And, it is often when these defenses are being asserted with the greatest fervor that trouble is not far behind. These gambling losses not only affect the individual gambler, they can affect entire families who must not only watch their loved ones being ripped off, but must provide comfort and a soft landing after the usual gambling train wrecks. There is help everywhere for gambling addiction. Get help before you go broke!

Copyright 2013 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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