Saturday, February 05, 2005

Many elderly gamblers take risks they can't afford to lose

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By Barbara DaughertyVALLEY NEWS DISPATCHMonday, January 24, 2005

Once again a study has been done to prove something that could have been proved by exercising common sense.
The University of Pennsylvania and the Penn State College of Medicine interviewed 843 senior citizens 65 and older about their gambling habits. Their conclusion: A significant number of elderly gamblers wage more than they can afford, according to an Associated Press report.
Surprise. Surprise.
Of people surveyed 70 percent said they took part in at least one gambling activity in the last year, and 11 percent met study criteria for at-risk gamblers, reporting they "plunked down more than $100 on a single bet, gambled more than they could afford to lose, or both."
I think the other 30 percent lied, perhaps out of embarrassment, when they said they didn't.
To save money on this study, all they had to do was take a look at people queued up to buy lottery tickets. Nine of 10 of those people -- men and women -- are old enough to be retired. And they don't buy just one $1 ticket, they have lists of numbers to play as long as your arm -- and they do this on a daily basis. They may grouse about having to wait in line at the supermarket deli or the Post Office, but they will wait patiently in line while the oldies in front of them play their numbers.
Plus they also play all the weekly games and buy scratch-offs by the dozens. Add to this the amazing number of elderly women who play bingo, sometimes roving from town to town every night, in hopes of winning the big jackpot.
Then there are the raffle tickets sold by churches and organizations and the "cheap" one-day trips to Atlantic City. The majority of purchasers are old folks.
You can begin to see a pattern here.
I see no problem with playing the lottery or bingo or buying raffle tickets or visiting Atlantic City, however, when it compromises one's financial situation, then there is indeed a problem.
When you hold $100 in your hand and can't decide whether you want to go to bingo or pay your gas bill, you have a big problem.
Sure, getting together with friends to go to bingo offers socialization and excitement for senior citizens, but at what cost. If you don't have enough money for food or to pay your bills, who is going to bail you out?
Problem gamblers who are retired and on fixed incomes often end up in greater peril than younger people who have more years of living and working to straighten out their debts, said Dr. David Oslin, senior author of the study in the current edition of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, as reported by AP.
"These seniors who are at risk may not be ready for Gamblers Anonymous but many of them don't have a lot of money and spending on gambling could mean that they won't have anything left to buy medicines," Oslin said.
Oslin said the study has some limitations -- only half of the people who were randomly chosen agreed to participate in the study. I guess guilt and embarrassment got the best of the rest of them. Older folks, unlike many of their younger counterparts, still have a conscience.
Terry Elman of the Council of Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey said he suspects the percentage of at-risk gamblers is actually much higher.
"There's a shame factor and a no-way-out factor with (elderly) problem gamblers," he said. "They don't really know what to do, and they're too ashamed to tell even their own kids that there's a problem."
"If it's an occasional event, like taking a casino trip every six months, that's one thing," Oslin said. "If it's a regular activity in which people are spending money that they really can't afford to, that's something else."
There is a solution, of course: Don't risk what you can't afford to lose.
Common sense, people, common sense.
Address comments to Barbara Daugherty, Valley News Dispatch, 210 Fourth Ave., Tarentum, PA 15084, call 724-226-4665 or toll-free 1-877-698-2553 or e-mail

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