Lady Luck Is Luring In Seniors

Walk into most casinos these days and you'll notice that a significant percentage of the clientele are elderly. Part of it may be that retirees have more time on their hands, but that's not the only reason that so many seniors are rolling the dice in their golden years.

The Early Show's Debbye Turner reports that growing numbers of America's senior citizens are pursuing lady luck and acquiring a taste for gambling. What was once considered a vice is now, to many, just another form of recreation.

"It's like the kids play the computer games," Slyvia Goliensky says. "We play the games on the slot machines."

John and Sylvia Goliesky are retired. They take trips with friends to Atlantic City's casinos about once a month, and they feel that today's seniors deserve to live a little.

"They worked hard all their lives, and now they want to have a little fun with their money," John Goliesky says.

The Golieskys are like the majority of seniors who gamble. They do it recreationally and they say they have no problem stopping. But a recent study suggests that 10 percent of older adults are at significant risk of becoming addicted.

"How it really happened, my gambling, I believe, is after my husband passed away," says Jean, who did not want to reveal her last name. "I think it was a life problem. I couldn't really cope with things that were going on. And so I would strictly think, OK, I'm going to run to the casino tonight to waste a few hours, to relax, to have some fun."

Jean didn't develop a gambling problem until she was in her 60s, and began frequenting a casino near her home in Tempe, Ariz.

"Just started out going once a month," she says. "Then maybe twice a month, to once a week. Pretty soon, I was going daily."

There were many things that attracted her to the casino.

"Everybody's real friendly," she says. "I went so often they all know my name. It felt like, oh, this is comfort. This is a second home."

While she was there, she says, it was "like a high and then it turns from a high into a zombie like state where you just can't go."

Jean estimates she gambled away nearly $400,000. And she says she wasn't the only senior there with a problem.

"I had a little lady sitting next to me," she says, "and she was crying and she said, 'Oh my gosh! I've just spent all my social security check. I don't know what I'm going to eat on for the rest of the week.' "

Ed Looney, the executive director of New Jersey Council on Compulsive Gambling, says, "Eighty percent of seniors who enjoy gambling have a lot of fun. They enjoy that experience. It's a social thing. It's a fun thing. Ten to 15 percent have some major problems and 5 percent become addicted."

Looney says there are certain factors that put seniors at risk.

"Seniors have time on their hands," he says. "They get bored. They're lonely, and they need some action in their life."

And he says seniors need to be aware of warning signs.

"You're spending more time than you allotted," Looney says. "You're spending more money than you allotted. You want to go back and gamble more as soon as you leave. When you're not gambling, you still think about it. These are some of the signs."

Jean's gambling addiction eventually led to her losing her home, her job and her life savings. Today she's in recovery and she hopes her experience will serve as a warning to other seniors.

"If you think that you are becoming, having a problem, get help," she says. "Gambling's not really a gambling problem. It's an escape problem. It's a life problem. You're running away from either grief, anger or loneliness."

One other problem seniors face is that their earning years are usually behind them. So if they develop a gambling problem, they may not be able to ever financially recover.

To get help, please call 1-800-GAMBLER.