Seniors can take a chance on gambling

by Evan Frank

Donald Sindric has worked as a steam fitter for 32 years. Depending on the job, he works 12-hour days, six days a week. Sindric, 60, may be employed, but he also enjoys the thrill of gambling in the hope of hitting the big jackpot one day.

“It started with sports betting,” Sindric said.

Each football season, Sindric participates in several pools around work.
He also travels every year with his wife and in-laws from Wisconsin, where he has played in most of the casinos, to Minnesota and Iowa.

“We’ll go up along the Mississippi River and stop in Iowa to go river boat gambling,” Sindric said.

In total, Sindric believes they travel close to 900 miles for the entire trip.
When the state of Wisconsin did not allow lottery tickets, Sindric would travel to Illinois to purchase them.

“I do it for the enjoyment,” Sindric said. “I’m always hoping to hit it big.”

While he may not have won a six-figure jackpot, Sindric has won $10,000 on a $2 lottery ticket. He buys tickets five to seven days a week on average. Over the years, Sindric has lost track of how much money he has spent on lottery tickets and gambling games alike.

For older people like Sindric, gambling can be an enjoyable time. For others, it can be a dangerous habit that is uncontrollable.

In places such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City, gambling is the lifeblood of the community. In 2007, Nevada casinos earned $12.8 billion with slot machines and table games such as keno and bingo, with sports betting being prominent as well. According to the University of Las Vegas Center of Gaming Research, other games such as twenty-one, baccarat, craps, roulette and poker brought in more than $3 billion. Atlantic City is home to 11 casino resorts with three more currently under construction, and 33 million people on average visit each year.

According to the Arizona Office of Problem Gambling, researchers at Pennsylvania State College of Medicine and the University of Pennsylvania surveyed elderly people 65 years and older and found 70 percent had been involved with some kind of gambling in the past year.

Addiction comes in many forms from alcohol, drugs, food, to even gambling.
In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association accepted compulsive gambling as a disorder of impulse control.

The Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey states compulsive gambling has three phases: winning, losing and desperation.

During the winning phase, the gambling wins help enhance a person’s ego and self-image. When a person loses, it is seen as bad luck.

As an older gambler begins to lose continually, they will borrow money to continue gambling in an attempt to break even. If the losing continues, they may go as far as selling their possessions or mortgaging their property.

“While the elderly gamble less than other age groups, the impact of gambling addiction may be more devastating as once savings are gone, that is it, they are not able to go back into the workforce,” said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling.

The National Council on Problem Gambling is a site dedicated to educating people about pathological gambling. The site has extensive information on the addiction itself and what a person can do to get better.

The Council on Compulsive Gambling states if an elderly person gets to the third stage, they may become obsessed with trying to cover their losses. Suicide can play a part if the addiction is not treated.

Bingo, according to Whyte, is the most popular game among seniors, with slots being a close second. Whyte said the amount of senior gamblers is not as much as other age groups, though.

Whyte said women tend to start gambling at an older age.

Phyllis Knudson, 74, has gambled since the casinos became prominent in Wisconsin during the late 1980s.

“I usually play the poker slot machines because you can make choices instead of just pushing a button,” Knudson said.

While casinos are a major attraction, they are not the only places to gamble. The track, which normally hosts dog and horse racing, has become a popular place for people to wager.

“Some of my friends asked me to come along on a gambling weekend,” Knudson said.

During the trip, she won $29 at the track, along with $79 at a casino they visited later on.

“Since then I have won some and lost some––enough to keep me coming back,” Knudson said. “But, it is strictly entertainment for me.”

Knudson said she knows when to stop. “If I am losing, I quit, and if I am winning, I still stop at a certain point so that I don’t lose what I have won,” she said.

Whyte said many seniors play for the social aspect of gambling, along with the exciting activity it may bring.

For a while, Sindric and his wife, along with their friends, would have a poker game once a month. He said the monthly games slowly stopped after the wives started talking more than playing.

“I don’t consider myself a gambler because I don’t do it for a living,” Sindric said.

Once he retires, he doesn’t see himself gambling any more than he does now. “I like to win,” Sindric said.