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Gambling and Seniors Part 3 - Spotting the Problem

Gambling and Seniors Part 3 - Spotting and Addressing the Problem...But Tread Lightly

by Don Drake, Connelly Law Offices, Ltd. 3.17.24


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Attorney RJ Connelly III

A client we'll call Harold had been leading a life of loneliness ever since he lost his beloved wife, Cheryl. Although he spent the first two years after her death with his children and grandchildren, he knew that their lives had to go on, as did his. Harold went to the Connecticut casinos with the local senior center to find some respite from his lonely life. Little did he know that this trip would be a life-changing experience that he had not anticipated, and it wasn't good.


Despite being good with money and watching his spending while in retirement, Harold sank fast after Cheryl's death. He found comfort in visiting the casino, as it met most of his needs—he had friends, had an enjoyable time, and even met a woman who showed him that life could go on. However, things soon took a turn for the worse.


Harold started visiting the casino once a month when he received his check, but before he knew it, he went there every week. The woman he had met at the casino was as addicted to gambling as he was, and they had nothing else in common except for their shared gambling problem. Looking back, Harold realized that she only called him to ask for money and that whenever they met, gambling was somehow always involved. It was not a relationship built on love; instead, it was built on chasing the bells and whistles at the casino. Harold felt like he was back where he started, but this time, he had less money and felt used by someone.


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A love of gambling was all they shared

"Harold's story is not uncommon for seniors who have gambling problems," stated professional fiduciary and certified elder law Attorney RJ Connelly III. "As we have previously discussed, seniors with a gambling addiction face the same challenges as younger adults, such as financial insecurity, relationship issues, and legal difficulties. However, the unique problem for seniors is the inability to recover from these devastating losses."


"Treating a gambling problem in seniors is particularly challenging due to reduced cognitive capacity in many of them, making it difficult to grasp the treatment process," continued Attorney Connelly. "That is why people who surround and care for seniors need to take concrete steps to limit their access to funds. But we will discuss this in more detail in part four of our series."


In the previous two blogs, the topic of discussion was limited to casinos. However, Attorney Connelly brings to light that gambling is not just confined to casinos or online. There are other forms of gambling that we tend to overlook and perceive as harmless, but in reality, they have the potential to cause a lifetime of financial loss. One such form of gambling is state-sponsored gaming like the lottery or Keno. He cautions against underestimating the risks associated with these games and urges individuals to exercise caution while participating in them. If you're wondering what Keno is, read on to find out!


State Sponsored Gambling

State lottery websites publish that the winning numbers for Keno are drawn approximately every four minutes, and players can choose from 1 to 12 numbers or "spots" for each game. Subsequently, a computer randomly selects twenty numbers from 1 to 80 and displays them on a Keno monitor. However, there's more to the game. KENO-To-Go allows players to play up to thirty consecutive KENO games. The regulations and rules are identical to the original KENO, and players can verify their tickets online after leaving the premises. Additionally, KENO BONUS allows players to increase their winnings by three, four, five, or ten times. The website's advertisement may sound appealing, but what are the chances of winning?


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Gambling at the corner store

"Many seniors assert that Keno presents a better chance of winning, but their chances of winning the Powerball jackpot on a single ticket are nearly one and a half times greater than the odds of winning the Keno jackpot," said Attorney Connelly. "However, the odds are astronomical in both cases."


Lottery games are a popular form of gambling that offers players the chance to win big prizes. The odds of winning in these games vary depending on the type of game and the number of spots or numbers selected. For example, in a single-spot game where the player selects a single number, the odds of winning $2 on a $1 bet are 1 in 4, according to state lottery commissions.


In a four-spot game where the player selects four numbers, the odds of winning a $100 prize by matching all four numbers are 1 in 326. Similarly, in a seven-spot game where the player selects seven numbers, the odds of winning $5,000 by matching all seven numbers are 1 in 40,979.


For those who aim to win big, the odds get increasingly difficult. The chance of winning $1 million in a 12-spot game by selecting all twelve numbers correctly is 1 in 478,261,833. This means that the odds of winning this prize are quite slim. In comparison, the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot, one of the most popular lottery games in the world, are 1 in 292,201,338. Like Attorney Connelly said, astronomical odds.


Interestingly, the odds of getting struck by lightning in any given year are 1 in 700,000, much lower than the odds of winning a big lottery prize. Despite this, lottery games continue to attract millions of players who hope to turn their luck around and win big.


"Convenience stores and coffee shops in New England are popular places for customers to indulge in the game of Keno, a simple game that doesn't require any fancy equipment or flashy lights," said Attorney Connelly. "All one needs is a pencil and a card, and they're ready to join the others in the store to await the next drawing. However, as simple as it may seem, Keno can turn into a dangerous addiction. Just north of Rhode Island, we witness how devastating the game can be for some players."


Keno and Destroyed Lives

Demetri Papageorgiou of Haverhill, Massachusetts, is a prime example of how Keno can affect people's lives. In 2003, he won a one-million-dollar prize on a scratch ticket. However, he didn't receive the total amount since he chose to sell the winning ticket annuity for a lump sum—about half its face value before taxes. He then proceeded to lose all his winnings and additional personal funds at the corner store.


Papageorgiou's story is a cautionary tale of how quickly gambling addiction can spiral out of control. "I was scratching two to four tickets and dropping $100 to $300 in Keno [a day]," he said in an interview with the Laconia Daily Sun in New Hampshire. "You might win and prolong the day slightly, but you give it back. When you are addicted to gambling, there is never enough money. It doesn't matter what I would win, I rarely walked out with any money in my pocket, and I'd only walk out if I needed to get home."


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A must stop whenever possible

Papageorgiou is an example of the demographic that state-sponsored Keno officials try to target. In Maryland, a middle-aged woman named Kate, who lived in a middle-class suburb just outside Baltimore and held a state job, also became a Keno statistic. She explained that playing the game started as a morning coffee stop before work, but soon escalated to playing whenever she could enter the store.


"I couldn't pass by that place without stopping. The second I saw it, I would be in there," she said. "The only thing that stopped me was when I knew I would be late for work or someone would be looking for me."


Kate explained that she would spend $100-$150 a day, sometimes writing checks to cover losses the market would hold until they were good. She said she would play "in the morning, in the afternoon, on breaks -- whenever I could find a few minutes to get away."


According to Attorney Connelly, Keno addiction can escalate quickly, as research indicates that addicts can lose control in as little as two to three weeks. In comparison, gambling addictions related to dog or horse racing may take years to develop. This is primarily because Keno provides the same rush as a slot machine, easily accessible at every corner. For someone struggling with a compulsive gambling issue, it can be challenging to resist the temptation to play. While we discussed various forms of gambling, including casino games, online gambling, lotteries, and Keno, it's essential to note that the stock market is another type of gambling often overlooked by many.


Gambling on Wall Street

"Many compulsive gamblers have turned to online stock buying and selling for their thrill-seeking needs," stated Attorney Connelly. "They perceive this outlet as a more legitimate form of getting their rush, but this perception is misguided as fortunes can be lost there, and sometimes at a much faster pace."


One may argue that playing the stock market is a form of gambling no matter how you look at it. Investors put their money at risk, hoping to receive a significant payout. So, what distinguishes a broker from a compulsive gambler? And aren't those who invest our 401K money gambling with the money provided by their house?


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Stock market gambling is difficult but possible

Attorney Connelly clarifies that there is a massive difference between investors and problem gamblers. While investors do not invest their money in the market when the mathematics indicate that doing so may be economically irrational, problem gamblers will spend their money to multiply their money, even when the odds are overwhelmingly against them. In essence, professional money people avoid risk, whereas problem gamblers actively seek out risk. This strategy is not a winning one in the stock market.


"Regarding seniors using the stock market, it can be difficult to determine whether they are investing for retirement or treating the market like a casino," said Attorney Connelly. "There are several signs to look out for, but it requires someone to be highly familiar with the banking activities of their senior loved one. One of the most obvious signs is excessive fees paid to brokerage houses. For instance, if you notice significant amounts of money being spent on brokerage fees, it could indicate that your loved one is not investing their money wisely. Sometimes, families may overlook such expenses, assuming it is the cost of doing business in retirement fund accounts. However, digging deeper and investigating such expenses is important to ensure that seniors are not gambling with their retirement funds."


According to Attorney Connelly, individuals with gambling problems often turn to stock market investments as a way to justify their actions when confronted by family members. This is because successful investing requires a certain level of skill and knowledge not easily understood by those around them. As a result, it becomes easier for problem gamblers to hide behind the complex jargon and strategies of the market while exploiting the ignorance of others when it comes to money management. Furthermore, even experienced investors can lose money, and family members may not realize the problem until significant financial damage has already occurred.


Spotting the Problem

“When a senior has a substance use disorder, you can tell when they are intoxicated or not being themselves. But with a gambling addiction, you can’t smell it on their breath or see it in their eyes. They don’t stagger and fall; in some cases, they display a false bravado as if everything is better than ever. It’s only when someone discovers that the property is in foreclosure or the car has been repossessed that the house of cards comes tumbling down,” said Attorney Connelly. Some of the activities to look for in seniors with a gambling disorder are:


A preoccupation with gambling

Do you hear them discussing gambling with the same level of enthusiasm and affection that they once reserved for their closest friends and family members? Are they constantly checking their phones for the latest Powerball numbers or carrying Keno cards in their pockets wherever they go? Their free time seems primarily spent at convenience stores or casinos, where they try their luck with various games of chance.


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More "alone time" at the casino?

Isolation from family, friends and activities

Have you noticed that some people seem to be avoiding social events, particularly birthday parties, only to be discovered later at the casino? It's concerning to wonder if these people are losing interest in the things they once enjoyed, or if they're simply finding new ways to have fun. For instance, there was an elderly man who used to love tailgating with his son during New England Patriots games, but recently he opted to watch the game at the casino instead. It makes one wonder if these behavior changes indicate something more serious, or if it's just harmless fun.


Self-neglect

Are the individuals in question neglecting their important medical appointments and prioritizing gambling instead? Are they failing to get the necessary prescription refills due to their engagement in playing Keno or other forms of gambling?


Gambling alone

It's not uncommon for individuals who struggle with gambling addiction to find themselves in isolation, sometimes even amid a group of friends. For instance, they might be sitting alone at a convenience store on a rainy day, playing Keno, while their friends are nowhere in sight. Unfortunately, people who recognize the signs of a gambling problem in someone they know often tend to distance themselves from the person in question, leaving them to deal with their addiction alone.


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Explaining large withdrawals from savings

Chasing losses

Problem gamblers often exhibit a behavior similar to that of drug addicts who constantly seek the euphoria they experienced the first time they used a substance. This behavior is known as "chasing losses," which refers to an attempt to recover the money they have already lost by gambling even more. Essentially, the gambler attempts to replicate the same sense of gratification and excitement they felt when they initially won. Unfortunately, this behavior often leads to a vicious cycle of gambling, where the individual continues to chase their losses by placing more bets, which can result in significant financial and emotional distress.


Lying about lost money

Are you suspecting that someone close to you is hiding their account statements? Have you noticed any significant amounts of money missing from their account without any logical explanation? Are they being dishonest about their whereabouts even though you know they are spending time at the casino or convenience store, playing Keno, or buying scratch tickets? If you are facing any of these situations, it might be a good idea to investigate further and have an honest conversation with them to clarify any doubts or concerns you may have.


Borrowing money

Have you observed instances where some individuals who should have saved enough money for retirement still borrow from their friends and family? Even more concerning is the possibility that they may not be able to pay back the borrowed amount, which can strain their relationships and cause financial turmoil. Have you come across such situations?


Gambling as a drug

Do they gamble when they are anxious or stressed? If a personal emotional issue arises in their lives, do they pack up and go to the casino?


The Bipolar High Roller

Is it common for individuals to undergo extreme mood changes, such as periods of mania or depression, after visiting a casino or convenience store for gambling purposes? Can gambling be a potential cause of mood swings?


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Are utilities turned off?

Missing valuables 

When a problem gambler runs out of money, they often become desperate to continue gambling and may turn to pawning or selling their valuable possessions as a way to get cash. This could include items such as jewelry, artwork, appliances, and tools. Additionally, some problem gamblers may even resort to selling their belongings on online marketplaces like eBay in order to obtain money to fund their gambling addiction. Unfortunately, this behavior can often lead to a vicious cycle of financial ruin and can have long-lasting negative effects on the individual and their loved ones.


Utilities turned off

When someone has a gambling problem, they may not be able to keep up with their bills because their money is being used to fuel their gambling habit. Late payments on bills, such as rent, utilities, or credit cards, are often a red flag that a problem is occurring. It's important to check on a loved one's financial accounts if you notice a pattern of late payments or missed bills. However, it's also possible that late payments could be a sign of a medical problem, such as dementia, which can make it difficult to manage finances. In either case, it's important to address the issue as soon as possible because late payments are a symptom of a larger problem that needs to be addressed promptly.


Health problems

As seniors age, they become more vulnerable to health issues, especially if they have pre-existing conditions such as heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or diabetes. While these conditions might have been under control before, they could present problems once again due to various factors. For instance, if the senior is exposed to second-hand smoke or excessive drinking at the casino, it could trigger adverse reactions and exacerbate their pre-existing conditions. Alternatively, if there is no money left to refill medications, the senior might not be able to keep their conditions under control, leading to further complications. Therefore, it is important to identify and address any potential triggers that could impact the senior's health and well-being.


“I just can’t stop”

Is the senior acknowledging the existence of a problem and admitting that attempts have been made to stop it, but unfortunately, they were unsuccessful in their efforts?


Questions to Ask

If one believes that a senior citizen may be experiencing gambling issues, there are several methods to initiate an exploration of the matter with them. This can be accomplished by posing a series of straightforward, non-confrontational and non-judgmental inquiries.


Ask them, “What do you do to have fun?”

When you are trying to establish a connection with someone, it can be challenging to break through the initial awkwardness. In this situation, what you are attempting to do is to build a rapport with them. It is unlikely that they will immediately open up and confess everything to you. Instead, the goal is to create a comfortable and safe environment that encourages them to share more about themselves. By showing genuine interest in them and actively listening to what they have to say, you can begin to establish a connection and build a foundation for a positive relationship.


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Talking with a loved one

Follow up with, “Do you ever play the lottery or go to the casino?”

When engaging in conversation with a senior, it's important to ask questions in a non-judgmental way. This means avoiding negative tones or language that might make the senior feel like they're being criticized or judged. Instead, aim to ask open-ended questions that allow them to expand as much as possible. You want to create an environment where the senior feels comfortable speaking openly and honestly with you. This can help build trust and rapport between you and the senior, leading to more productive conversations and a more positive overall relationship. So, remember to be mindful of your tone and language when speaking with seniors, and try to create an atmosphere that encourages open and honest communication.


A Clue to the Issue

If a senior discloses a matter to you, it is recommended to inquire further by posing one or both of the following questions, depending on how comfortable the senior is with discussing the topic. You may ask, "What aspects of it do you find unpleasant?" or "What aspects do you find enjoyable?" This could be a potential indicator of an issue that needs to be addressed.


It is important to pay attention to the reasons why someone enjoys gambling. If they express that gambling has helped them cope with a significant loss, such as a job or a spouse, this may suggest a developing problem. This is particularly concerning if they are losing substantial amounts of money, yet they persist in seeking out this activity to fill the void left by their loss.


When you ask someone their opinion on a particular activity or situation and their immediate response is that they don't like losing money, further discussion is necessary. Persisting with a course of action despite experiencing negative outcomes implies that there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. This problem can most likely be traced back to the initial question of why the activity or situation is being pursued in the first place. Therefore, it is essential to delve deeper and understand the root cause of the problem before continuing with the activity.


In the field of psychology, there is a concept known as secondary gain. This refers to a positive benefit individuals may receive due to their behavior or psychological symptoms. For instance, in cases where people engage in behaviors that lead to financial loss, they may still experience a sense of gain because these behaviors serve as a source of fulfillment or satisfaction in their lives. In other words, these individuals gain a sense of purpose or meaning from their actions despite the monetary loss.


Treatment for Gambling

When you are trying to support someone who may have a gambling problem, it's important to take a gentle approach. Depending on how much information they are willing to share, you can gradually move forward and ask them if they think their gambling has become a problem. However, it's crucial not to push the issue, as this may discourage them from opening up in the future. If they say no, it's best to let it be, but ensure you leave the door open for future communication. On the other hand, if they say yes, ask them if they would like to speak with someone who knows their concerns.


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Counseling is recommended as a part of treatment

"When it comes to treating gambling addiction, it requires a multi-disciplinary approach that should involve treating the gambling problem itself, as well as addressing the underlying psychological issues that may contribute to it," said Attorney Connelly. "These issues may include grief, loss, a sense of identity, and feelings of hopelessness."


Furthermore, it's important to address any feelings of abandonment that may be present. For instance, consider the story of Tammy, a client who moved from her own home into a senior retirement community following the death of her husband. Once she made this move, her children and grandchildren no longer spent as much time with her as they did before. However, after Tammy began exhibiting signs of a gambling problem and her children's inheritance started to disappear, they suddenly became more interested in her well-being.


As we mentioned earlier, one potential issue with gambling addiction is the concept of secondary gain. In Tammy's case, she found that once she got her family's attention with her gambling losses, she continued to use this as a way to ensure weekly visits from her kids. Unfortunately, this was a pretty expensive way to keep the family together.


A Final Word

"When dealing with a senior who has a gambling problem, it is important to take several steps to ensure their well-being," stated Attorney Connelly. "Firstly, a health check-up should be arranged to assess any physical or mental damage that may have occurred due to their gambling addiction. Secondly, it is crucial to review and adjust any treatment plans that were in place to ensure they are still effective. Finally, someone should control the senior's finances to prevent further damage. It is highly recommended that this individual be an outside person or entity, as family members may disagree or fight over financial control, which can be detrimental to the senior's recovery and overall quality of life."


In the fourth installment of our ongoing series, Attorney Connelly will discuss financial strategies tailored to the concerned family members of individuals with gambling addiction. This blog will explore a range of effective approaches to addressing personal financial challenges arising from gambling.


In our series on gambling and seniors, our goal is to shed some light on this critical topic, so we may help raise awareness and encourage those struggling with problem gambling to seek the support they need. Additional help can be found by going to the National Council on Problem Gambling where you can find help in whatever state you are in.


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Please note that the information provided in this blog is not intended to and should not be construed as legal, financial, or medical advice. The content, materials, and information presented in this blog are solely for general informational purposes and may not be the most up-to-date information available regarding legal, financial, or medical matters. This blog may also contain links to other third-party websites that are included for the convenience of the reader or user. Please note that Connelly Law Offices, Ltd. does not necessarily recommend or endorse the contents of such third-party sites. If you have any particular legal matters, financial concerns, or medical issues, we strongly advise you to consult your attorney, professional fiduciary advisor, or medical provider.


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