WILKES-BARRE — Too many senior citizens are gambling away their life savings, and on Thursday a representative of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board offered advice and resources to help.
Elizabeth Lanza, director of the Office of Compulsive and Problem Gambling, talked to about 160 senior citizens Thursday at the fifth annual Educational Workshop for Older Adults at Genetti Hotel & Conference Center sponsored by the Elder Issues Coalition of Luzerne and Wyoming Counties.
“We have seen problem gambling become a problem among older adults,” she said. “Retirees are going through their savings, and when it’s gone, they realize they have no working years left.”
Gambling problems, which affect about 4 percent of the population, have a far-reaching effect, hurting not only the gambler, but also their families and friends, Lanza said.
“People have to realize that casinos are businesses and they are here to make money,” she said. “For those with a gambling problem, treatment works. It may not work immediately, but it does work.”
Lanza and Elizabeth Burch, program analyst, did a PowerPoint presentation on the issue, followed by a brief question-and-answer period. “Although no substance is ingested, the problem gambler gets the same effect from gambling as someone else might get from taking a tranquilizer or having a drink,” Lanza said.
Don’t blame the casinos or the lottery; the problem is the gambler’s inability to control the urge, Lanza said. The causes could have to do with a person’s genetic tendency to develop addiction, life stress and even his or her social upbringing and moral attitudes about gambling, she said.
“The casino or lottery provides the opportunity to gambler,” said Lanza. “But neither create the problem any more than a liquor store would create an alcoholic.”
Older adults facing major life transitions — such as the end of their career, death of a loved one or isolation from family and/or friends — are especially susceptible.
Family members and friends should never “bail them out” when losses are incurred, Lanza said. Instead, take control of their finances, monitor their Internet use, tell them how you feel, help get them into counseling and be encouraging to see they get help.
Gamblers who do admit they have a serious problem, said Lanza, can do something else: ban themselves from casinos. Her office will assist those who want to enter the confidential “self-exclusion program,” she said.
People always should set modest limits on what they can afford to lose while gambling, Lanza said.
“Expect to lose,” she said. “Avoid chasing lost money. Set limits and stick to them.”