A Dollar and a Dream

By Karen O’Connor
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email
Focus on the Family

From there thousands of retired men and women begin a slow descent into compulsive gambling, a behavior that affects the gambler, his or her family, employer and community.

Lydia’s husband of 44 years passed away leaving her financially set for life. But grief and loneliness overwhelmed her. She joined a senior club to meet people and have fun. The group sponsored a bus trip to a gaming casino east of San Diego, where she lived. “That was the beginning of the end for me,” she admitted. “I had money to burn — to gamble,” she corrected and chuckled. “And I enjoyed the feeling of watching the wheel spin and the dice fall in my favor — part of the time. It was enough to bring me back. I won a little each time. I might have lost overall, but I didn’t care. I was having a good time and I believed I deserved it.”

Lydia continued her gambling pattern until she went through $200,000 before seeking help on the counsel of her son.

Hidden Illness

According to Dr. Robert Perkinson, clinical director of Keystone Treatment Center in South Dakota, (www.robertperkinson.com) compulsive gambling “is called the hidden illness since there is neither smell on the breath nor stumbling of steps or speech. Nonetheless, a gambling addiction is as debilitating as alcohol or drug addiction.”

The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPA ) (www.ncpgambling.org) states that such activity is characterized by “increasing preoccupation with gambling, a need to bet more money more frequently, restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop, chasing losses,” and an inability to stop despite mounting debt and serious consequences to personal and family well-being.

Widespread Problem

The NCPA estimates that “two million (1 percent) of U.S. adults are estimated to meet criteria for pathological gambling in a given year. Another 4-6 million (2-3 percent) would be considered problem gamblers.” And among them are a growing number of seniors.

As recently as 70-80 years ago, gambling was illegal in the United States. Today, busloads of senior men and women from senior centers go off to Las Vegas, Reno and other cities for a weekend of gambling. Many churches hold benefit casino nights and bingo games. Friday Night Bingo has long been a popular draw for retired persons, whether or not they attend the church that sponsors it.

High as a Kite

One man in his 60s, now in treatment for a gambling addiction, and who asked to remain unnamed, said he had no idea that what he considered to be innocent betting could lead to addictive behavior. His father had been an alcoholic and he vowed not to follow in his footsteps, so he turned to the lottery instead. Next he went on a trip to Las Vegas with a group of friends and that did it. “I came home high as a kite. I won a few dollars and I got a lot of attention. I hadn’t felt that good in years.” He looked for more bus trips and they were easy to find. He turned all his attention to gambling, losing interest in friends and volunteer work, and he cut down time spent with his children and grandchildren. “I was obsessed with the next trip and the next.”

Rita, a recovering gambler from Los Angeles, believes there are a lot of closet gamblers among seniors — particularly among women. Gambling has typically been a man’s pursuit. “It’s OK for men to go to the track, play poker or shoot craps, but it’s not OK for women,” she said, her tone underscoring the cultural bias. “But women? They should be at home raising the kids or helping with grandkids.”

Not Just a Man’s Pursuit

In truth, problem gambling among women is on the rise, possibly due to the increase of card rooms, bingo halls, state lotteries, and more recently, Internet gambling — forms of betting that are particularly attractive to senior women, especially those without a mate.

Many seniors today — both men and women — also have more discretionary income and more leisure hours than their peers of two or three decades ago. Even if one lives in a senior living complex, retirement home or care facility, all he or she needs is a computer and a credit card to get involved with ‘invisible’ gambling.

Lucky Charms

Some seniors claim they wear a particular shirt or blouse, or pick out a favorite seat at a gaming table. They’re convinced their ‘luck’ turns on these choices. Still others, such as Dotty, perform little rituals such as circling the casino three times before sitting down to play or collecting quarters in a jar reserved for her time at the slot machines. A few favor a certain dealer or prefer a specific time of the day or evening for playing their favorite game. The process becomes almost a mystical experience. The gambler is afraid to depart from such actions for fear of losing his or her winning touch.

Some individuals focus on affirmations, visualizations, willpower and other mind-control techniques in an effort to “find favor,” as one woman put it, “with the gambling gods.”

Such behavior can become addictive in itself and have frightening and far-reaching spiritual consequences for the men and women involved, including dependence on psychic readings and other forms of spiritual bondage in order to create a lucky streak.

Steps to Recovery

Dr. Perkinson focuses on three steps to recovery at his treatment center. He claims people need to:

• get honest about their addiction

• go to Gamblers Anonymous meetings and participate with others

• get on a spiritual path to God.

“Ninety percent of addicts who take these actions stay clean,” he said.

Perkinson also made the point that “many people know God’s teachings, but they are helpless to live by them because of the addictive nature of gambling. Addiction stands in your way of God,” he said resolutely. “Gambling and money become your God. Because of this, gamblers live in hell. Only God can release them from slavery.”

Taking Inventory

Seniors who are compulsive gamblers answer “often” or “very often” to many of these statements:

  1. I gamble with money I cannot afford to lose.
  2. I am preoccupied with winning and/or recouping my losses.
  3. I feel restless when I am not gambling or planning a gambling trip.
  4. I find myself increasing my bets in order to experience greater excitement.
  5. I gamble to escape my troubled life.
  6. I enjoy the status and attention I receive while gambling.
  7. I neglect my family, community, social, and recreational activities in favor of gambling.
  8. I continue to gamble despite my rising debts.
  9. I am secretive about my gambling and the money I use for betting.
  10. I have borrowed, stolen, or used retirement funds for my gambling.
  11. I cannot stop gambling, despite repeated efforts to try.
  12. I would rather gamble than do anything else.

Copyright 2008 by Karen O’Connor. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Share:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

About the Author

Karen O’Connor

Karen O’Connor is an award-winning author of more than 40 books and a speaker from Watsonville, Calif. Please visit Karen at www.karenoconnor.com.

You May Also Like

Thank you [field id="first_name"] for signing up to get the free downloads of the Marrying Well Guides. 

Click the image below to access your guide and learn about the counter-cultural, biblical concepts of intentionality, purity, community and Christian compatibility.

(For best results use IE 8 or higher, Firefox, Chrome or Safari)

To stay up-to-date with the latest from Boundless, sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter.


If you have any comments or questions about the information included in the Guide, please send them to [email protected]

Click here to return to Boundless

Focus on the Family

Thank you for submitting this form. You will hear from us soon. 

The Daily Citizen

The Daily Citizen from Focus on the Family exists to be your most trustworthy news source. Our team of analysts is devoted to giving you timely and relevant analysis of current events and cultural trends – all from a biblical worldview – so that you can be inspired and assured that the information you share with others comes from a reliable source.

Alive to Thrive is a biblical guide to preventing teen suicide. Anyone who interacts with teens can learn how to help prevent suicidal thinking through sound practical and clinical advice, and more importantly, biblical principles that will provide a young person with hope in Christ.

Bring Your Bible to School Day Logo Lockup with the Words Beneath

Every year on Bring Your Bible to School Day, students across the nation celebrate religious freedom and share God’s love with their friends. This event is designed to empower students to express their belief in the truth of God’s Word–and to do so in a respectful way that demonstrates the love of Christ.

Focus on the Family’s® Foster Care and Adoption program focuses on two main areas:

  • Wait No More events, which educate and empower families to help waiting kids in foster care

  • Post-placement resources for foster and adoptive families

Christian Counselors Network

Find Christian Counselors, Marriage & Family Therapists, Psychologists, Social Workers and Psychiatrists near you! Search by location, name or specialty to find professionals in Focus on the Family’s Christian Counselors Network who are eager to assist you.

Boundless is a Focus on the Family community for Christian young adults who want to pursue faith, relationships and adulthood with confidence and joy.

Through reviews, articles and discussions, Plugged In exists to shine a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving you and your family the essential tools you need to understand, navigate and impact the culture in which we live.

Have you been looking for a way to build your child’s faith in a fun and exciting way?
Adventures in Odyssey® audio dramas will do just that. Through original audio stories brought to life by actors who make you feel like part of the experience; these fictional, character-building dramas use storytelling to teach lasting truths.

Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored all-inclusive intensives offer marriage counseling for couples who are facing an extreme crisis in their marriage, and who may even feel they are headed for divorce.