Alcohol And Seniorspicture of male senior




Table of Contents

1. What is gambling?

2. Why do people gamble?

3. What's the concern for seniors?

4. How common is it?

5. Are there any studies on seniors and problem gambling?

6. Why does gambling become a problem for some people in later life?

7. Is there a connection between alcohol and problem gambling for seniors?

8. Who has the problem?

9. References, Links and Resources

A. Links

B. Problem Gambling Counsellors for Seniors

C. Articles on  problem gambling

D. Research on problem gambling



1. What is Gambling?

In an Alberta study, seniors defined gambling as any activity involving playing a game for money, betting on the outcome of a contest, or paying for the opportunity to enter a lottery.(page3)

It can take many different forms, including scratch tickets, pull tab tickets, bingo games, casino games, mahjong, charity raffles, lottery tickets, betting on sports games or pools, and horse betting.


2. Why Do People Gamble?

Addiction Foundation Manitoba notes there are many reasons:


a. Recreation and Fun

"The complex mixture of anticipation and reward involved in gambling makes the activity  exciting for many people.  Also, some forms of gambling lend themselves to socializing, giving some people a sense of belonging."

 b. To Support a Charity

The combination of winning a prize and supporting a worthy cause is attractive for many people

c. Escape

For some people, gambling can provide an escape from problems at home, at work or from emotional states of boredom or anxiety.

d. To Win Money

Gambling is probably the only form of recreation that offers people a chance to make money.  Gambling activity is almost always attached at some level to winning money.  Winning money is connected to a host of different meanings for people, including meeting basic needs, security, freedom, power and the "good life"."

3. What's the Concern for Seniors?

As governments derive more and more revenues from gambling (almost $12 billion in 2001  according to Statistics Canada), they have a public responsibility to prevent and address problems that may arise from that activity. The biggest growth has  been in  casinos and video lotteries.

Canada West Foundation notes "High social costs are paid when individuals become problem gamblers, who are more likely to lose a job, suffer depression, have a nervous break-down, default on debts, pass bad cheques, divorce and attempt suicide."

Young seniors (under age 70) may cash in their  Registerd REtirement Savings Plan (RRSPs) to pay for gambling.  They often don't realize that in doing so, the amount of the RRSP is added to their income that year for income tax purposes.  A gambler in this situation can be in for a nasty eye-opener to find that not only did he or she lose the money, but also that the person then has to pay higher taxes because of cashing in the RRSP.

Governments can also be concerned that if seniors lose more money than they can afford, that the seniors will then become a government responsibility (more likely to need provincial or federal seniors' benefits). This is because many seniors' benefits are tied to seniors' income. A higher income senior who gambles beyond his or her means can easily become a low income senior.

In some cases, the concern is about the marketing strategies used in some communities to bring seniors into casinos, such as busing them to and from a seniors' building to the casino, and providing inducements, such as offering breakfast.

Some people are concerned that gambling may adversely affect the person's health. If the person is spending more than he or she can afford, there isn't likely to be adequate money for rent, food, medications.

There is also the concern, "if you are an older adult and you lose your money, it's gone forever".  Unlike younger adults there, there simply isn't the opportunity for older adults to rebuild what has been lost financially. A lifetime of saving can evaporate "overnight".

There are gender issues. Gambling is a new activity for some older women. That inexperience can lead to difficulties. A husband who develops a gambling problem in later life risks not only his income, assets, and future wellbeing, but that of his wife who is likely to outlive him by many years. His problem becomes hers. Gambling problems are a family issue.

Lower education for some seniors may mean they may not be able to fully understand risks they take in gambling.

Sometimes it not the senior who has the gambling problem, but someone else in the family. That person is now turning to the senior as a source of funds. Sometimes the senior will give money willingly, sometimes it is obtained through manipulation, lying, force or theft. See elder abuse.


4. How Common Is It?

Generally speaking, research finds that the risk of problem gambling is much lower among older adults than younger adults. However in part, that may reflect the fact that the research tools commonly being used to identify problem gambling. These may not be sensitive to the types of gambling problems or gambling effects that seniors are likely to experience.  We have seen  a very similar problem with alcohol screening/ identification tools designed for "adults" that are based on the activities and problems of younger adults and do not seem to capture the realities or circumstances of older adults' lives.


5. Are There Any Studies on Older Adults and Problem Gambling?

The Canadian Foundation on Compulsive Gambling (Ontario) is looking at "the gambling activities, problem gambling behaviour, negative consequences, and related social and personal factors within a province-wide sample of adult Ontarians 60 years and older."


An Ontario study found low rates of problem gambling among seniors compared to younger people. Of people aged 60 and over, only 6.4% were identified as "at risk",  having a moderate problem or having a severe problem. Only 0.1% were described as having a severe problem. 

Compare this to 27.3% of the 18-24 year olds who fell into one of the problem categories ("at risk", moderate problem or severe problem), and 12.9% of 35-49 year olds  who fell into one of the problem categories. However, this study used the Canadian Problem Gambling Index, and a senior with a gambling problem could answer truthfully to the nine key questions and yet  not come up as  having a moderate or sever problem.


A Manitoba study conducted in  2000 found that gambling was a fairly common activity among adults 60 years and older in Manitoba, with 77.5% of respondents having gambled at least once in the year prior to the study.   The researchers found of the total sample of 1000 seniors, 1.6% of participants were  gambling at problem levels, and 1.2% were gambling at a probable pathological level.  They used the South Oaks Gambling Screen Revised (SOGS-R). 

They also found that

"The large majority of older adults who are gambling at problematic levels do not consider themselves to have a problem with gambling.  This represents a considerable challenge to the provision of services.  A further challenge in responding to older adult with gambling-related concerns is the lack of observable signs associated with problem gambling.  Among participants in the problem gambling categories, the most common indicators of problem gambling included gambling more than intended and feeling guilty about gambling."


6. Why Does Gambling Become a Problem for Some People in Later Life?

Gambling can turn from an innocent past-time into a problem for the individuals and others around him or her.  We are still just beginning to get a sense of the reasons why it becomes a problem for some. Sometimes, circumstances  in the person's life have changed (such as  death of a spouse or change in health). The person relies on the gambling activity  as a way of dealing with boredom or escaping loneliness. In an Alberta study,  seniors were asked  "Why do seniors gamble? The study found they gamble for several different reasons, the most common being for the "pleasure of the activity" and "the opportunity to socialize."

Problem gamblers also suggest they gambled to "escape problems", because they "needed the money", and because it "was a place they could go where  they would not be judged."  Generally, influencers emphasize the theme of "loneliness" among seniors as being a major reason why seniors gamble.

The nature of the game can make its addictive.

It is also possible that for some seniors (although probably a very small percentage of all seniors), problem gambling may be an early sign of damage to the part of the brain that controls judgment.


7. Is There a Connection Between Alcohol and Problem Gambling for Seniors?

The Manitoba study mentioned above found that compared to gamblers, non-gamblers were more likely to abstain from alcohol. Gamblers were also more likely than non-gamblers to consume 5 or more drinks on an occasion. There weren't any  statistically significant differences between problem and non-problem gamblers when it came to frequency of alcohol consumption in the past year. However, those older adults who were gambling at problematic levels were more likely than non-problem  gamblers to consume 5 or more drinks at a sitting. The Manitoba study also found that those seniors gambling at problematic levels were more likely than non-problem gamblers to report feelings of anxiety and depression.

The Addiction Foundation Manitoba website identifies several "subtle" psychological and physical signs of a gambling problem. Looking at them, it is easy to see some crossover of signs of other addiction problems such as alcohol. Depression is common in both people with alcohol problems and those with gambling problems, as is becoming withdrawn. In both, the addiction can be the way the person is try to fight his or her way out of depression, or the problem is leading to or worsening an existing depression.

In extreme cases, the person can be feeling suicidal. In both gambling and alcohol, the person may be skipping meals because he or she can't afford them or the  addictive activity is taking over more and more of the person's life.



  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Withdrawn
  • Suicidal thoughts


  • Skipping meals
  • Reports an increase or decrease in chronic pain
  • Sleeplessness


8. Who Has the Problem?

Like problem drinking, problem gambling may not always feel like a problem to the person doing the activity.  Others can be affected by someone's gambling problem. In the Manitoba study, participants were asked questions about people whose gambling was affecting them.

"In most cases, this individual with the gambling problem was male (68%). There was a wide range in the ages of the individuals identified, from 20 to 83 years. For 50% of the sample, the person was between 20 and 45 years old. Most reported that the person with the gambling problem was their child (32%), followed by sibling (18%), other relative (18%), and spouse (14%)...A large proportion of participants (41%) also indicated that this person had problems with alcohol or other drugs." (at page 35)


References, Links and Resources

Wiebe, J., Single, E.  &  Falkowski-Ham, A. (December 04, 2001)."Measuring Gambling and Problem Gambling in Ontario". Available on the Internet :

Prevalence of Gambling and Problem Gambling Among Older Adults in Manitoba: October 2000


AADAC. (December, 2000) "Seniors and Gambling: Exploring the Issues"

Ontario's coroner discusses problem gambling and suicides. St. Catherines Standard article  (April 21, 2005)



Page last updated Thursday July 07, 2005

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