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Do You Have a Gambling Problem?

Do You Have a Gambling Problem?
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BY KITT WALSH

Some old dogs are learning new tricks. We Baby Boomers are learning to gamble away our retirement savings, egged on by an industry that sees a population with plenty of money and plenty of time to spend it.

We are the fastest growing population of gamblers (one study in New Jersey found that 23% of residents over 55 in that state had symptoms of a gambling problem.) Half of all people who hit up casinos in the USA are over 50.

In 2012, the gaming industry took in more profits than any year since 2007, just before the crash, and the casino industry alone took in 37 billion dollars—even more than gambling on professional sports. 70 percent of seniors gambled at least one time in the last year.

The gaming industry has certainly taken notice of us. There are shuttle buses from every city (and many nursing homes) to the casinos, where there are affordable buffets, wheelchair accessible slot machines and blackjack tables. Drug discounts and lunch coupons are given out all day and even the hard-to-find cocktail waitresses suddenly appear to keep the older gambler from going thirsty. There’s oxygen in the bathroom for older folks, a place to dispose of needles for a diabetics’ insulin and wheelchair rentals on-site. The casino remembers your birthday and sends a card saying they’ve missed you if you stay away. At an age where we begin to feel more and more overlooked by society and our families, such attention is alluring.

If hopping a bus or catching a cheap flight to Vegas isn’t your style, there’s online gambling galore. From multistate Powerball to buy-in poker games, the gambling industry knows we’ve got time, money and may need a void filled in our lives. As our children age and move away and since we are likely to outlive our spouse, it is no surprise that senior woman are the fastest-growing segment of gamblers of all.

A chance to win brings us excitement, distraction and even a sense of hope that tomorrow will be different. It might be true. Tomorrow might be different because scientists have proven that gambling actually changes our brain chemistry, providing an artificial high—a surcease of problems. Ultimately, gambling brings no such thing except an empty wallet and possibly big trouble down the road. A study by the University of Pennsylvania showed that 1 out of 10 of us by age 65 have serious financial problems from gambling. We spent money meant for food and prescriptions, spend our social security checks, even blown through money saved for our own retirement or our grandchildren’s education.

The National Council on Problem Gambling reports that 2 million people in the USA meet the criteria for their definition of pathological gambling. Here are some signs you might be one of them:

You’ve tried to quit, but can’t: If you can’t limit your bets or times at the slots or online and find betting taking over more of your time and money, pay attention.

Your bets aren’t just for entertainment: If you set aside $100 to play for fun at the casino or bingo and instead overspend and feel anxious the entire time, you may have crossed a line.

You gamble with money you can’t afford to lose: Problem gamblers squander all money (think money for monthly bills and daily needs), even borrowing money to gamble.

Your bets are getting bigger: No longer the $2 lottery ticket, now you are buying hundreds of $2 tickets, hoping for that big score. If your spending is accelerating, time to rein it in.

You attempt to recover losses by gambling more: This classic sign of problem gambling has you throwing good money after bad in the (faint) hope of hitting big and covering your losses. It won’t happen and the hole you are digging is getting deeper.

Gambling becomes more important than other things: You may stop going to church or miss your grandkid’s soccer game or quit seeing old friends in order not to cut into your gambling time.

Negative feelings are showing up: You feel irritated or frustrated when you fail in trying to quit, remorseful about your actions and yet drained of ambition to change them. You are having trouble sleeping and are worrying obsessively. You are isolating from friends and loved ones and feel all alone. Such feelings signal a problem.

So what to do? Here are some tips for putting an end to your compulsive gambling:

Admit you have a problem: You can’t make an effort to stop until you, “spot it and know you’ve got it.”

Ask for help: The folks at Gamblers Anonymous share their experience, strength and hope to help you get out from under this problem the same as they did. Also check out professional help (up to 70% of people with a gambling addiction have other mental health issues that need addressing). The National Counsel on Problem Gambling even has a list of certified gambling counselors to help.

Change your environment and habits: Stay out of casinos, bingo halls, poker games and the OTB. Block gambling sites on your computer. Turn down that outing to the racetrack. Those are places you don’t go anymore. Consider giving someone else control of your money. Cut up your credit cards.

Find something else to do: Search for an absorbing hobby, whether it’s running marathons or training service dogs, in this instance, idle hands are the devils playground.

For more help, call 800-522-4700 (24 hrs a day) or visit www.ncpgambling.org or www.gamblersanonymous.org.

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