For seniors, financial pitfalls come in many forms: Ponzi schemes, Internet scams, a relative who takes advantage of them. But many also see their life savings slip away— and into casino coffers — because of their own actions.
The AARP cites studies that estimate Americans lost $100 billion gambling in 2008 alone and that 4 percent to 5 percent of U.S. residents are addicted to gambling (http://tinyurl.com/b2ku5js). Practically speaking, that means nearly 15 million Americans are gambling addicts, and anecdotal evidence alone suggests that millions of those are seniors.
Protecting your clients’ assets is hard enough, and it’s even harder when your client is the source of the financial distress.
The silver tsunami
Your client didn’t wake up one day and suddenly become addicted to gambling, but there are risk factors that may make older adults more susceptible. Losing a spouse and the resulting loneliness can be a trigger. After working her entire life, sudden retirement can leave your client at a loss for what to do, and gambling can fill that void.
Health problems can limit physical activities, and gambling is nothing if not a sedentary activity. And declining cognition can take away a person’s aversion to risk (http://tinyurl.com/b35wrod).
In recent decades, casinos have moved from their traditional homes in Las Vegas and Atlantic City and proliferated across the United States, thus, offering seniors across America a social activity for those who otherwise would be shut out. According to the AARP, casinos or other forms of gambling establishments operate in 38 states, making it easier for a bored senior to join the “fun.” Free transportation and other perks entice your elderly client to say “yes” to a casino day trip.
The Seattle Times tells the story of former Boeing executive Linda Selymes (http://tinyurl.com/bd4or3y). When she retired early, her blackjack dalliance became a full-blown addiction and the once highly paid executive lost up to $500,000.
It was common for her to get cash from her credit union, use cash advances on credit cards and go to her debit card for money to feed her addiction. She once won $14,000 — and it was all gone within 10 days.
It took her husband threatening to leave her for Selymes to confront her problem. Getting into a state treatment program helped, but it still took several years before she was gambling-free for one continuous year.
Help is available
Spotting signs a client has a problem can be the first step in getting it under control, says the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling (http://tinyurl.com/bfcpfdo).
Look for a sudden need for money or loans and secrecy or anger when questioned about their financial situation. Watch for changes in personality and attitude, and notice if your client’s physical health has deteriorated. Missing possessions or assets can be another sign, as can a loss of interest in activities with family and friends.
The National Council on Problem Gambling (http://tinyurl.com/5lyr3m) has a toll-free number your client can call to get help and advice, at 1-800-522-4700.
We hope this information was useful to you and helps your clients and their families. If you have a specific case or a question, don’t hesitate to call our office.
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