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Senior Correspondent

Q. I see lots of seniors in casinos. They come in by the busload. I was wondering whether older people have more problems with gambling than younger people? 

A. About 1 percent of all adults in the United States have a serious gambling addiction. The statistics on senior gambling indicate that compulsive gambling is a greater problem among older adults than adults in general. One study found that 10 percent of seniors were “at risk” gamblers. The study said a gambler was at risk when wagering more than $100 in a single bet, or betting beyond what was affordable. 

A federal study found that the percentage of over-65 Americans who recently gambled jumped from 20 percent in 1974 to 50 percent in 1998, a surge unmatched by any other age group.

New Jersey's Council on Compulsive Gambling has created a program to educate seniors about gambling addiction. According to the council, about 5 percent of the seniors who gamble appear to have a problem. The Council should know about this subject; Atlantic City is in New Jersey.

A study by the state of Florida found that retirees make up 34 percent of casino regulars — gamblers who brought their money four or more times a year. The casinos help out by sending buses to senior centers to pick up potential bettors.

The American Psychiatric Association classifies compulsive gambling as an impulse control disorder. Imbalances in the brain chemicals serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine may be factors in compulsive gambling. Many people are able to control their compulsive gambling with medications and psychotherapy, and with the aid of self-help groups.

Gamblers Anonymous provides a 12-step program patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous. GA has more than 1,200 U.S. locations and 20 international chapters. You can find GA on the internet. The phone number for GA is 626-960-3500.

GA offers the following 20 questions to help people decide if they have a compulsion to gamble and want to stop. Most compulsive gamblers will answer yes to at least seven of these questions.

1. Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?
2. Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
3. Did gambling affect your reputation?
4. Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
5. Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
6. Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
7. After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
8. After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more?
9. Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?
10. Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
11. Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
12. Were you reluctant to use "gambling money" for normal expenditures?
13. Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?
14. Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?
15. Have you ever gambled to escape worry or trouble?
16. Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?
17. Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
18. Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?
19. Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
20. Have you ever considered self destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?

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