How to Keep Gambling Safe and Affordable for our Elders

Everyone smile and wave to the camera!  What fun to be on a bus trip to the casino!  We presume this photo op is at the beginning of the trip.  How about at the end of the day, on the way home—will there still be smiles and enthusiasm?  Let’s see if we can make that so.

The gambling industry has long recognized the elder population as a marketing bonanza: they respond well to special deals and free stuff; they have a degree of disposable income; and they are looking for activities during the daytime. At the same time, organizations and groups catering to elders, such as senior centers, nursing homes, and senior living facilities, are in the business of organizing group events and pursuits for their clientele. A perfect fit of need and opportunity!

Research indicates that many older adults who gamble do experience positive health benefits, including stress reduction and the promotion of positive relationships.  Ideally, these elders have “had the conversation” about gambling awareness and problem gambling and have become “informed consumers”. And “informed consumers” make good choices and know how to “keep the problem out of gambling”.

Gambling tends to be one of those subjects not talked about: it is so normative and pervasive it is often overlooked.  We have had many conversations over our lifetimes about the risks and responsibilities of drinking alcohol and about the health dangers of smoking and chewing tobacco. Our conversations about gambling, when they occur, tend to be more about the thrill and excitement of the activity, or maybe how much money was won, or “made”.

At its’ most basic, gambling is how we budget and spend our money.  And our money—how much we make, have, and spend—is often considered our own private business. Certainly the older generations relate to this tradition of keeping your own business to yourself, whether it is an issue with money or with gambling too much.

When people spend more than they intended or can afford, they can feel guilty or ashamed.  When they borrow money or can’t pay bills or meet financial obligations due to their gambling, they can be considered by others to be “weak”, “bad with money”, or just plain “greedy” for getting into this situation in the first place.

Simply talking about gambling is the place to start.  In fact, “Have the Conversation” has become the tagline for the National Council on Problem Gambling’s annual Problem Gambling Awareness Month campaign.

Back to our elders on the bus.  Let’s hope they have had the conversation.  What makes them informed consumers?

First, they know our three important messages:

  1. Gambling is the act of risking money or something of value on an uncertain outcome in hopes of receiving something of greater value.  Therefore, gambling is not a risk-free activity.
  2. Know how to keep the problem out of gambling.  Set a limit on how much time and money, and stuck to it.  They only gamble with money they can afford to lose (and if they win, it’s a bonus!).  View gambling as entertainment, not as a way to make money.  Balance gambling with other leisure activities.  Use common sense strategies: gambling should be viewed as entertainment.  Learn about money management.  “Financial literacy” enables a more realistic view of how to make money.  At this age, elders are often balancing necessities, fun activities, and their legacies.
  3. Know that help is available for people who experience problems with their gambling.  Connecticut has a statewide network of “Bettor Choice” gambling treatment programs, and services are available at low or no cost.  Family members and loved ones are also eligible to receive services whether or not the gambler is in treatment.  There is a toll-free, 24/7 Helpline, and chat and text are available.

Second, let’s think about the organization sponsoring the bus trip; a senior center, for example.  Here’s how they can support elders as gambling-informed consumers:

  1. Prior to boarding the bus, each elder is paired with a “buddy” for the trip. They agree to check in with their buddy during their time at the casino, make sure they take breaks from gambling, stretch their legs, use the restroom, stay hydrated, take their meds.
  2. Elders are given literature which includes the Problem Gambling Helpline number along with warning signs of a potential problem. Often elders will deny that they have a problem but will point out a friend or peer who does; so that any information coming to them is prefaced with “just in case you notice a friend in trouble” or “this is good information in case you notice someone who…” Problem Gambling Services provides a “Lifesaver Wallet Card” designed specifically for elders.  (This card is available at no cost from PGS or you can download copies from the website,
  3. Other options offered by the sponsoring organization could include showing gambling awareness videos on the bus ride; scheduling the trip for the timeframe before the Social Security checks are issues rather than immediately after; providing a site map of the casino and highlighting where they can locate non-gambling activities such as shopping, dining, music and art.


What other ways are there to help our elders become gambling-informed consumers?  It’s important to remember we are not telling them that gambling is bad, or that they should not go on these excursions.  We support their interests in being social and having fun with their friends and peers. We want to “have the conversation” so that they can make informed choices, reduce potential harm, stay safe and make the most of their experience.

Susan D. McLaughlin, M.P.A., C.P.S., Prevention Services Coordinator, PGS
For an informal tutorial in financial literacy for elders, click on
“Gambling and Financial Well-Being: Older Adults”

For general information, fact sheets, personal stories from elders and more, visit, or

Photo disclaimer: This photo was taken from Clip Art and does not represent the diversity of patrons over 60 who visit casinos.