Characteristics of Problem Gamblers 56 Years of Age or Older: A Statewide Study of Casino Self-Excluders

Authors: Lia Nower, Rutgers University; Alex Blaszczynski, University of Sydney

Publication: Psychology and Aging

Year: 2008

Focus Area: Profile, Prevention

Relevance: Understanding those who are already prone to compulsive gambling may provide insight into those who tend to fall for gambling, lottery, and other scams.

Summary: This article explores the demographic profiles of those who volunteer to have themselves banned from casinos, a choice generally indicative of serious gambling problems.

  • Pathological gambling is an impulse control disorder, a disorder that is surprisingly common; an estimated 2% of adults and 4% to 6% of adolescents meet its diagnostic criteria.
  • Older adults report greatly increased participation in gambling activities (from 35% in 1975 reporting ever having gambled, to 69% in 2001 reporting gambling within the past year).
  • Higher rates of problem gambling are associated with seniors who take buses to casinos, participate in bingo halls, and with senior centers, ethnic minorities, and veterans.
  • Compared to younger gamblers, older gamblers report lower incomes, longer gambling histories, and problems with slot machines (non-strategic gambling).
  • Gamblers 60 and older who frequent casinos at least monthly tend to be young-old (60-74), widowed, less educated, without transportation, in poorer mental health, earning less than $20,000 annually, and tend to have less social support.
  • Older individuals who were healthier and more active were less likely to visit casinos regularly.

Further research may explore the roles of socialization/isolation and activity level on the development of gambling problems, as this might suggest further benefits for prevention and intervention.

Author Abstract: Gambling among older adults appears to be increasing, though little is known about the characteristics of older adult problem gamblers. The purpose of this study was to compare older adults to younger and middle-aged adults in a cohort of problem gamblers participating in a state-administered casino self-exclusion program. Self-reported problem gamblers (N = 1,601) who voluntary [sic] banned themselves from Missouri casinos from 2001 to 2003 were categorized by age as younger adults (ages 21 to 35; n = 490), middle-aged adults (ages 36 to 55; n = 950), and older adults (ages 56 to 79; n = 161), and were compared with respect to demographic variables, gambling participation, and reasons for self-exclusion. Older adult self-excluders typically began gambling in midlife, experienced gambling problems around age 60, reported preferences for nonstrategic forms of gambling, and identified fear of suicide as the primary reason for self-excluding. Implications for intervention, prevention and treatment are discussed.

Keywords: pathological gambling, problem gambling, older adults, casino self-exclusion, seniors

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