Another spin of the wheel

According to recent numbers from Statistics Canada, the average Canadian senior has approximately 7.5 hours of leisure time a day. And one of the increasingly popular activities that many seniors are turning toward is gambling. This can take the form of everything from slot machines at local casinos to bingo parlours, scratch tickets and sweepstakes. The list goes on.

Since the mid-1970s, the percentage of seniors who gamble has increased from 35 per cent to more than 85 per cent. For most, gambling is a harmless activity that is just another form of entertainment. For some, however, gambling may develop into a serious problem that can actually threaten their lifestyle. When a person is faced with failing health, a number of personal losses or just increased leisure time, they may turn toward gambling as an escape from loneliness or pain.

Gambling to find escape or solace is filled with risks. One of those risks is the potential to quickly lose your life savings. This may only compound the initial problem and distance someone even further because of the shame of having to admit that he has lost his income at the slot machine, the bingo parlour or in some other gambling activity. The stress of coping with this loss can have both mental and physical repercussions.

Although there isn’t a tried-and-true method to prevent gambling from moving from fun to problematic, there are some general pointers that can be used as guidelines to keep your gambling activities from becoming a serious addiction.

Set a financial limit
Many people set aside and bring only a certain amount of money to be used for gambling. This guards against the temptation of spending more than you can afford to lose and helps ensure the experience does not become a harmful one. Leaving behind the credit cards and bank cards will serve to strengthen your resolve.

Regular breaks
Realizing just how much money you’re spending can be difficult if you’re caught up in what some people describe as the thrill of gambling. You may want to set time limits on your playing and to take regular breaks. That way, you get a chance to step back and gain perspective before committing yourself too deeply.

Don’t borrow
The practice of borrowing money to gamble is particularly risky. Not only are you likely to lose it, but you may also end up with a debt to cover.

Use disposable income only
Deciding how much money you’re going to spend on gambling means determining how much money you can afford to lose. Try not to over-extend your finances by using the rent or food money. Look at your weekly or monthly budget and if gambling is one of your entertainment activities, put aside an amount of money that won’t undermine the other things you enjoy doing.

Balance entertainment activities
Using leisure time for entertainment activities is a great idea. But try not to restrict all of your activities to one form of entertainment. Balance a trip to the casino with an outing to the library or the local museum. Try your hand at volunteer work or simply pick up a good book for a relaxing and cosy afternoon.

Responsible Gambling Council
Laurie Bell is the director of Prevention Programs for the Responsible Gambling Council (RGC). The RGC undertakes research and public awareness programs designed to prevent gambling-related problems.