Seniors and Gambling Addiction - Part 4 Beginning the Financial Recovery

In our previous blogs, we discussed problem gambling from the casino to the corner store, including lotteries and Keno. We also took a look at internet gambling, which continues to rise in popularity and interesting enough, the below story hit the news from the State of Rhode Island. This report is from the Newport Buzz from Newport, Rhode Island.

President of the Senate Dominick J. Ruggerio will submit legislation in the Senate this afternoon to allow mobile sports wagering through the Twin River casinos in Lincoln and Tiverton.

“The new in-person sportsbook that opened in November has been very popular, with lines stretching out the doors,” said President Ruggerio. “It is an entertainment option that many Rhode Islanders enjoy, and visitors from outside the state are also flocking to our gaming facilities to place their wagers on sporting events. Expanding to mobile gaming would provide a convenient option for those wishing to enjoy this form of entertainment and open up the economic benefits beyond the walls of Twin River. I can envision a group of friends from out-of-state spending an evening out in a local establishment where they can both watch the game and place a wager.”

The legislation would enable the creation of an app consumers could use to access the sports gaming offerings at Twin River from anyplace within the parameters of the state of Rhode Island. Consumers must initially set up their accounts in person at Twin River, and thereafter could place a wager from anywhere in the state. They must be physically in the state of Rhode Island in order to wager. The system would utilize technology to determine the location of any person placing a wager and would not accept wagers from outside of the state’s boundaries.

We just added this for your consumption. Like we stated before, you can keep alcohol and drugs away from an addict by limiting their access to an environment where those substances are accessible, but it is difficult to limit a gambling addict from finances given the fact that rent, food, travel and utilities all involve a need for money.

Now, even the most basic of electronic communication tools – the telephone – will also become a trigger in the hand of a gambling addict in Rhode Island. By the way, there are other states that are already allowing this.

But let’s get back to the subject of this blog – Recovering from Gambling.

A compulsive gambler in recovery requires active involvement of others around them. This includes identifying that a problem exists, limiting their access to money and valuables and beginning the process of recovering financial health.

First, let’s look at a list published by Gam-Anon for family and friends of those with a compulsive gambling problem. If you answer “yes” to at least 20 of these questions, you may be living with -- or friends -- with a gambling addiction.

  • Do you find yourself constantly bothered by bill collectors?

  • Is the person in question often away from home for long, unexplained periods of time?

  • Does this person ever lose time from work due to gambling?

  • Do you feel this person cannot be trusted with money?

  • Does the person in question faithfully promise to stop gambling: beg, plead for another chance, yet gamble again and again?

  • Does this person ever gamble longer than he or she intended to, until the last dollar is gone?

  • Does this person immediately return to gambling to try to recover losses or win more?

  • Does this person ever gamble to get money to solve financial difficulties, or have unrealistic expectations that gambling will bring the family material comfort and wealth?

  • Does this person borrow money with which to gamble or pay gambling debts? Has this person’s reputation ever suffered due to gambling, even to the extent of committing illegal acts to finance gambling?

  • Have you come to the point of hiding money needed for living expenses, knowing that you and the rest of the family may go without food or clothing if you do not?

  • Do you search this person’s clothing or go through his or her wallet when the opportunity presents itself, or otherwise check on his or her activities?

  • Do you hide the gambler’s money?

  • Have you noticed a personality change in the gambler as his or her gambling progresses?

  • Does the person consistently lie to cover up gambling activities?

  • Does this person use guilt induction as a method of shifting responsibility for his or her gambling to you?

  • Do you attempt to anticipate this person’s mood or try to control his or her life, seeking some stability in your own?

  • Does this person ever suffer from remorse or depression due to gambling? Sometimes to the point of self-destruction?

  • Has the gambling ever brought you to the point of threatening to break up the family unit?

  • Do you feel that your life together with the gambler has become a nightmare?

“This, obviously, is an excellent list,” said Attorney Connelly. “However, these questions are usually asked once there is good reason to believe that a problem does exist. There are also other financial red flags that may indicate a problem, be it from gambling or other forms of financial abuse.”

According to Connelly, these “red flags” include:

  • Multiple household bills being overdue or someone in the family wants access to money in order to “pay these bills” when all they want is access to cash.

  • The person is always out of money for even small, minor purchases even after the monthly retirement check comes in.

  • You open a drawer and find hundreds of used scratch tickets.

  • There are warning letters from credit card companies threatening court action if the bills are not paid.

  • A bi-polar big roller. It’s either manic spending or being depressed over being so broke.

  • Secrets about money – bank accounts are hidden, deposit slips are unaccounted for and no one seems to know where money is kept.

  • Constant requests from your loved ones for loans for a variety of excuses from “paying for medical bills” to “the bank made a mistake”.

  • Personal valuables are missing like jewelry, works of art, collectibles and tools. They may be at the local pawn shop.

  • Your loved one is making risky investments in the stock market, real estate or precious metals looking for the "big score".

  • The bank calls frequently about overdrawn accounts and bounced checks.

  • A loved one is spending more time away from home either at casinos or the corner convenience store.

  • The house has been subjected to a reverse mortgage when sources of income indicate such an action is not necessary.

Connelly also points out that there are serious health issues that occur as a result of compulsive gambling. “We know that gambling destroys families and can result in spousal abuse and neglect. Statistics show that problem gamblers are prone to alcohol and drug abuse, depression, physical health issues and even suicide.”

“Those who know a problem gambler have probably heard them say, ‘If I could

only get my finances in order, I’d never gamble again.’ But this is the ultimate form of denial. Their financial problems are the direct result of their gambling. Compulsive gambling is a serious psychological disorder that requires intervention on a variety of levels,” stated Connelly.

In business cases where embezzlement is suspected, a forensic audit occurs to discover accounts, missing money and items and other ways valuables have been accessed. In the case of a compulsive gambler, a forensic audit of your personal financial life is in order. These are the actions to take:

List all sources of income

When it comes to this, we can readily identify the obvious such as paychecks, social security, pension, trust income and cash advances from credit cards. There are also less obvious sources such as tax refunds, an estate inheritance and even food stamps.

When we talk about food stamps, we are talking about SNAP benefits. Not so long ago, food stamps consisted of coupons with dollar values that were easy to sell for cash. In order to avoid fraud, the government switched over to electronic benefits with a card that, in theory, would be more difficult to steal from. Unfortunately, there are no shortage of business owners willing to pay for access to these cards at pennies on the dollar.

In another case, we were familiar with a client who would buy cases of bottled water with his SNAP card, empty them out and take the empties to the recycling machine where he would exchange them for cash. If there is a will, you can bet they will find a way.

Other sources of income include selling personal items on on-line auctions like E-Bay, intentional damage to a house or vehicle to get a check which they cash themselves, and of course getting money from friends or family members.

We have even seen seniors sell their prescriptions for money. Anyone who watches television or reads the signs on telephone poles see people or organizations offering to buy diabetic supplies. For those with health insurances that pay for insulin and test strips, the person resells them for cash. Again, their diabetes goes untreated leading to other health issues or even death.

Surprisingly, some seniors have even engaged in prostitution for extra money. Think this is outrageous? Here is a report from NBC4 in New York:

A 75-year-old resident of a New Jersey senior citizen housing complex is suspected of running a prostitution ring that employed some elderly residents as sex workers, NBC 4 New York reports. Englewood Police Chief Arthur O’Keefe told NBC 4 New York that Parham ran the prostitution ring in various apartments, and employed young women as well as senior citizen residents. Reportedly, there was also sex and drug use going on in common areas of the complex, and some seniors were “afraid to venture into certain areas because they were afraid for their lives.”

Admittedly this may seem extreme, but nothing should be off the table – especially when it comes to baby boomers who bring a whole different attitude towards things that were once considered taboo for the senior population.

Take an Inventory of Your Assets

A number of things will fall under assets that need to be accounted for and if possible, placed out of reach of the problem gambler. These include home equity, cash value in life insurance policies, real estate, retirement accounts, stocks and certificates of deposit.

Other assets include vehicles, jewelry, antiques, coin collections, computers, cameras and art work. If your appliances are relatively new or high tech, these should also be considered to be an asset.

Develop A Budget

If you continue to live with the gambler, every cent needs to be accounted for. This includes developing a budget and living by it. The budget should include a way to begin paying back credit cards or other accounts that are in arrears due to gambling losses. If the budget is off, the gambler needs to be confronted immediately. Ten dollars missing this month that goes unconfronted may be five hundred dollars next month.

Take Away Control

If possible, take away control of all finances from the gambler. It may be you in control (although we don’t recommend that given the ability of the gambler to play on emotions). If you have another family member you trust or a friend, they could assist in this. However, we do recommend a professional fiduciary who offers daily money management to do this as it takes any emotional connection away from the family finances. There is a fee for this service but in the end, the aggravation and battles that can occur between family members can be avoided by going this route.

Gather a List of Liabilities

Before putting together your budget, you will need to gather a list of liabilities and prioritize them. For instance, utilities and rent/mortgages should be paid up first, followed by credit cards or other loans. Consider putting money back into retirement accounts but speak to a professional for some advice on how you can safely begin this process.

Protect Your Own Financial Health

It’s imperative that you limit the gambler’s access to money that may not belong to them, specifically if it’s in a joint account. They may swear that “things are different now” but the problem will continue unless you take actions to protect yourself and your own financial health.

These things include:

  • Check your credit cards and take your name off of any joint accounts. While doing this, you may also want to check with the credit bureaus to see if any accounts have been unknowingly opened in your name.

  • Change bank accounts from a joint account to your own. Get a PO Box and have the statements delivered there rather than to your hoe so the gambler does not see your new accounts or have access to checks. Remember, if you have been together a long time, the gambler probably has access to your birthdate and social security number.

  • Get a safe deposit box and put your valuables in it. Again, have any information sent to the PO Box.

  • Close out debit cards or change the pin.

  • Do not allow the gambler to talk you into co-signing anything financial.

  • Tell friends and loved ones not to lend the gambler money.

  • Change the household bills over to your name (if the utility allows that to happen).

Like other addictions, the addict is very good at playing on emotions. They may do everything from showering you with gifts, flowers and candy to tearfully promising to never “do this again”.

Remember, in the overwhelming majority of cases, this behavior is aimed at breaking you down so that they can gain access to your money once again. Attending support groups is a key to maintaining your own well being as well as becoming educated in the plethora of behaviors that you will be faced with.

Next week, more on recovering financially from gambling losses.

Attorney Connelly practices in the area of elder law. This area of law involves Medicaid planning and asset protection advice for those individuals entering nursing homes, planning for the possibility of disability through the use of powers of attorney for the both health care and finances, guardianship, estate planning, probate and estate administration, preparation of wills, living trusts and special or supplemental needs trusts. He represents clients primarily in the states of Rhode Island, Connecticut and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He was certified as an Elder Law Attorney (CELA) by the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF) in 2008. Attorney Connelly is licensed to practice before the Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Federal Bars.

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