Growing Old Gambling

(gentle music) (slot machines chime in background) VOICEOVER: If you gamble, know the warning signs. (chip rattles) Know the risks. (electronics hum) (rattlesnake rattles) (quiet, intense music) NARRATOR: These slots are not your grandma’s one-armed bandits.

Today’s casino games are interactive and immersive. Casino gambling is moving to the next level. DR. ROBERT HUNTER: The ability to gamble on your phone, the ability to gamble through your TV set, that makes me a little nervous, just because that’s never happened before.

JERRY BAUERKEMPER: My prediction is in the next 10 or 15 years, our millennial’s will be out of the casinos and on the phones gambling. But our older adults are still, they’re land-based, they’re walls-and-concrete gamblers.

ELIZABETH: I won a jackpot of $35,000 one time. It was always the draw of, can it happen again? It did, it does.

And so that kept me going.

NARRATOR: As the gambling industry zeroes in on millennial’s, older players continue to put millions into a proven, highly addictive technology, the slot machine. BAUERKEMPER: The odds are so much stacked against you. ELIZABETH: I pretty much started dipping into my 401K at age 59 1/2. I’ll be 63 next month.

NARRATOR: Gambling is fun entertainment for most. But for those that are addicted, it can be destructive. BAUERKEMPER: If you’re a million dollars in, is there a jackpot out there that you can win that’s gonna get you out from underneath that?

Then you have to take bigger bets, and so you get deeper and deeper. DON FEENEY: You can make the argument that the generation that is most susceptible for develop gambling as a problematic behavior are baby boomers.

(quiet, intense music) (quiet, intense music) JERRY BAUERKEMPER: Older adults have more time, more resources, than younger adults, and they are more willing to go places, socially. Young people are stuck on their phone.

That’s how they socialize.

They play games, they talk to each other with Twitter. Older adults many times use casinos, bingo parlors, keno places, as social places. It’s a place to go, it’s my night out. Wouldn’t you go someplace where everyone was like you? And so they’re all congregating there. (slot game chimes) (upbeat tropical music) NARRATOR: Online video slots are gaining popularity with today’s older adults.

Slots consistently ranked in the top 10 in app stores.

Social games offer free play, and entice users to pay for extras. Social casino games have a $3.4 billion emerging market, according to industry research. Free games, like Candy Crush and Angry Birds, seem destined for the casino betting floor. BAUERKEMPER: The next hybrid of gambling will be kind of a mix between gaming, the Candy Crushes, and gambling, the online, you know, slot machines, or the online poker games.

We’re morphing to a game where casinos can have it on their floor, and on their apps, and so we’re moving slowly from buildings to phones. As we all get more comfortable, and I’m in that older adult age, 55 and older, I’m getting more and more comfortable using my phone for everything.

And so, it’s not a big step as we age, and as basically the apps get easier to use, we will make that transition to your phone. And people will be able to lose their lives, their financial and emotional and physical lives, while looking at an app.

NARRATOR: Jerry Bauerkemper runs a 24-hour gamblers’ hotline. BAUERKEMPER: We have people that answer the phone, in the offices, and then we have people in the evening that are doing it out of their home. We have multiple lines, and so you’re not gonna get a busy signal.

In fact, I got the 2am call last night. And then we will immediately call connect them with a counselor.

And so, they will get someone who knows about gambling, who works with gamblers, absolutely that minute. ELIZABETH: I had a moment of crisis. I was thinking of committing suicide because I had ran out of money to pay rent.

I had no money to pay my credit cards, my cell phone bill.

I had written bad checks. So I felt hopeless, totally hopeless. I’m pulling my hair out because I just wanted to kill myself.

I just had this awful feeling that I had to do it, and I had two ways to do it even, two ways that I was thinking of doing it. And then I decided to call the 1-800-BETSOFF. And they took me to the hospital where I stayed for five days.

(vehicle driving past hospital) NARRATOR: Elizabeth is an actuary for a major Nebraska insurance firm. Her job is to mathematically measure and manage risk. ELIZABETH: Roughly 19 years that I’ve lived in Lincoln, probably didn’t go to the casinos at all, didn’t even know they existed out there.

Kind of pretended like, big deal, I’d rather go to Vegas. NARRATOR: Total Rewards is the nation’s most popular casino and entertainment loyalty program.

ELIZABETH: Got lured in with the coupons that they used to give you. You’d have to show up with them, and they would give you cash or tickets to put in the machines. And the amount of times that we went started to increase. The amounts that I started gambling with increased from pennies, nickels, to quarters, to dollars, to five dollars, to $25 slot machines.

(gentle, quiet music) A constant march to the casino, and I would go in the middle of the night after everybody was asleep. I pretty much started dipping into my 401K at age 59 1/2.

I’ll be 63 next month. So I’ve had a couple of years where I’ve been able to drain that account, which probably had close to $500,000, if not more, in it. I also drained an annuity and an IRA.

So probably close to $750,000, if not more.

I was playing thousands of dollars, maxing out on my credit cards. And if I won, I would put the money back in that week, and then go back to the casino the following week, and withdraw that same $2,000, or whatever cash allowance that I had, and put that back in the machine. Sometimes I would be able to pay it off, and sometimes I would not be able to pay it off. I am a Seven Star player.

I got all of the VIP treatments, gifts, and things of that nature.

I would get coupons for three nights free at one of the hotels. Then there would also be nights where you would win extra tier points, which can translate to cash later on. NARRATOR: With counseling, Elizabeth requested self-exclusion from Iowa casinos.

This lifetime ban is irrevocable, yet it does not include Iowa’s tribal casinos. ELIZABETH: Well, I first blame myself for being so stupid. Secondly I do blame the government for making it a legal entity, which at this point in time in the history of gambling is impossible to burn down.

And third, yes, I do believe the casino enabled me to some degree, yes.

By offering me all these perks. (traffic rumbles) CAROL O’HARE: I think we as people in recovery, we owe something to those who are still struggling. O’HARE: That one. NARRATOR: Carol O’Hare is the Executive Director of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling in Casinoslots, a crisis intervention and referral group. O’HARE: Recovery is a day-at-a-time process.

But it’s a forever process. By day, I sold computers for a living and explained to intelligent adults how you can’t be smarter than that microchip, and how the computer is operating on a nanosecond, and you can’t be smarter than the computer.

And I would get off work, and proceed right to my local gaming establishment and sit down in front of a computer, a video poker machine, that somehow in that moment, I thought I could be smarter than the nanosecond and the microchip. It’s a very insidious addiction. It hijacks everything that is logical and sane about your thinking, and causes you to act in the most illogical, insane way.

When you look specifically at women, when you look at older women, I can tell you that their faces look very similar.

They typically are women who, they’ve raised their family, they’ve, you know, they’ve had the successful career, they’ve had the good marriage, but as you know, once we get older, you know, life can get tougher. And when you start to experience losses, sort of the perfect storm that can happen, and particularly in a community like Vegas where people may come here to retire. NARRATOR: Las Vegas is a top retirement destination, with 24-hour gambling fun near you.

O’HARE: So you work your whole life, you’ve got this great plan, you executed the plan, you raised your family, you come to Las Vegas, you move into a great retirement community, you and your spouse, and you’re gonna live out your golden years.

And then one of you has a catastrophic illness. Maybe one of you dies. Suddenly you have this person whose golden year plan has been taken out from under them.

ANNA: I was a teacher in Colorado Springs, and so I had saved quite a bit of money there, ’cause there’s not a lot of gambling or anything.

(quiet, intense music) ANNA: So I moved down here with my daughter, and that was my main purpose, was to move here and gamble. I’m 77 years old, and my game of choice was video poker. First started off as the nickel machines, and then quarters, and then I decided, OK, I’ll try the penny machines, you know.

But you can’t win unless you do the max. It’s gonna take all my money, and then I’m going to wind up tryin’ to find ways to pay bills and all that kind of, just misery.

But I couldn’t stop. Just, I don’t know why, what was goin’ on, you know, I would say, “This is horrible, why are you doin’ this?” But then I would still just go do it.

“Well, I get $100, and maybe I won’t “pay that bill now, but maybe I’ll just “pay the late fees, and I’ll do this. ”

But, oh, it’s awful. I had about $50,000 or $60,000 saved, so when I moved down here, I proceeded to lose all of that. DR. ROBERT HUNTER: She’s a prototypical senior patient.

She moved here because she was attracted to gambling, and then her gambling slipped off the rails.

The average age of gamblers in Las Vegas is creepin’ up and up. It’s interesting, though, that a significant percentage, actually over 30% of my patients here at the Problem Gambling Center, are over 51 years of age. So it’s not like this is a small group.

I’m the founder and director of the Problem Gambling Center. We arguably are the largest gambling clinic in the country.

Certainly one of the oldest. There are four or five percent of the population that gambles that just can’t gamble, in the same way there’s a percentage of people that just can’t drink. The neurobiology of addiction is really freakishly similar.

My patients gambling on brain scans look like alcoholics drunk, look like addicts on pain pills.

It’s the same switch that gets thrown. The manifestation of the illness is a little bit different for gamblers, though. It’s a little more devilish, because of that chase phenomenon.

“Well, I’m in trouble, but the only way “to solve the trouble is to do some more of this. ”

“This which is killin’ me is the “only thing that’ll fix me, “so lemme go get my rent money to win back “my car money, lemme go get my 401K money…” It’s that progressive… I’ve never had a late-stage alcoholic say, “If I get drunk just right, my liver will heal.” But my patients sincerely say, “If I could just get $1,000, I’d win back my 401K.”

The overwhelming percentage of problem gamblers that are female play video machines. I think the addiction is in the individual, not in the game, but they are the game of choice for my gamblers. Because my gamblers aren’t really lookin’ for fun or excitement or money, they’re lookin’ for escape.

And the machine is a good avenue for escape. ANNA: Go to G.A., or just you know, a program like this, anything to help yourself. Because it’s going to get worse and worse and worse, and you know, some people actually, ’cause I was actually getting to think, “Oh, suicide,” you know, “I’ve gotta get rid “of myself, I can’t do this anymore.

And “I hate feeling this way.” So get help. O’HARE: You can never be too old to get this addiction, but you can also never be too old to get the recovery, and that’s really the message that we need them to hear. JERRY BAUERKEMPER: Most people think the only form of gambling is casinos.

Almost 50% of them have a gambling problem that is not casino-based.

Sports gambling, scratch-offs, keno. A person last night called on our helpline at 2am, 68-year-old male, middle of our state, who is a keno player, but he’s also a horse player. So he calls our helpline, and he doesn’t go to a casino, he never goes to a casino.

And yet he’s calling us at two in the morning saying, you know, “This is, it’s over my head. “And I’m in big trouble.” (crowd chatters softly) BAUERKEMPER: First of all I train counselors.

I do a lot of training around how counselors should work with gamblers. I wanna concentrate a little bit on the moral reasoning.

Man walked into my office and said, “I need gambling help. ”

And he said, “I robbed people to get gambling money, “only this last time, when I was robbing them, “the person I robbed fell in front of a train.” BAUERKEMPER: Hey, my friend.

NARRATOR: Addiction treatment specialists in the region are here for training at the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling Conference in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. In the 1990’s, state-sponsored lottery and native American-owned casinos were introduced to Wisconsin. Today, statistics suggest 333,000 state residents have a gambling problem.

Seniors and adolescents have the highest risk of developing a gambling addiction. The average age of female gamblers calling the Wisconsin gambling helpline is 64 years old.

BAUERKEMPER: There’s a lot of people workin’ with alcohol and drugs. There’s a lot of people working with bipolars and depressions. There’s not a lot of people working with people who have gambling issues. They sit in the shadows, and they suffer by themselves.

And they don’t have to. And so my goal is to bring them out, and say, you know, “There’s hope and there’s help for you too.” GAMBLING AD: You could win $1,00 a day for life!

DON FEENEY: You can make the argument that the generation that is most susceptible for develop gambling as a problematic behavior are the baby boomers.

When I started looking at the risk factors for gambling addiction, they seemed to me to be concentrated in baby boomers. Isolation, the sense of guilt, stigma, forbidden fruit, you know, the more repetitive forms of gambling where you can drop an awful lot of money very, very quickly, seem to be where the baby boomers’ preferences lie. Older gamblers seem to be much more drawn to the big jackpot games.

You know, the billion-dollar jackpot holes, much more appeal to them, the fantasy of that. It’s become a very interesting challenge for the… lottery industry to look at, how do we remain a long-term, viable source of generating income for state programs? LITTLE GIRL: Lottery!

Do you hear me!?!?!

Lottery! FEENEY: One of the things that we try to do is tell parents, please don’t give your kids lottery tickets as gifts, particularly at Christmas. It’s just not a good idea. A big indicator of developing a gambling problem isn’t so much what gambling activity you do, it’s the number of different gambling activities that you do.

So people who find themselves in treatment programs are people who are buying lottery tickets, and playing slot machines, and maybe playing cards at the casino while they’re at it, and then gambling when they go out to the bar.

KEVIN: I just lost control. I don’t know. I couldn’t stop. I did just about anything. It was growing to the point where I was lookin’ for things to gamble with.

I mean pull-tabs and stuff, I never did any of that.

But it was to the point where I’d go out to the bar just to do that. And I knew it was a waste of time, I knew it was a waste of money, but I’d still do it. Cleared out the last of my 401K, but I had before that, I borrowed some money from my brother-in-law.

I promised him that I would give him his money back when I got the check from that 401K.

I didn’t go and give him his money back. I went right straight to the casino. And tried to win more. I knew I needed help, and I couldn’t manage anything. I went to a hospital, and I seen the security guys out in the parking lot, and said, “Where do you go if you just don’t wanna live anymore? ”

It’s just that, I was hopeless.

He showed me to the emergency room, and I spent a couple of days in a psych ward. (gentle piano music) They made the phone call to Project Turnabout. (gentle piano music) What I learned was, that people were a lot like me, and I wasn’t alone.

(gentle piano music) NARRATOR: Protected by prairie grass and granite, Project Turnabout in Granite Falls, Minnesota, is a non-profit, 122-bed in-patient campus focused on the treatment of addiction. ZANA BLOMBERG: This is your safe place to share your story.

This quilt was made by past peers and alumni. SHERYL ANDERSON: We’re an inpatient residential program, and what that means is that people do come here, they stay here. Right around 30 days would be the average length of stay.

And we’ll find a counselor that deals specifically with gambling on an outpatient type of basis. Back to wherever they’re from. NARRATOR: There are no FDA-approved medications for treating gambling disorders. Counseling and 12-step Gamblers Anonymous programs are common therapies.

ANDERSON: We meet the best people in the world comin’ through our doors.

They don’t know that they are, they don’t even know that they’re worth anything. But it’s incredible to meet people and to see that glimmer of hope. If you look across the country, there’s no shortage of casino types of gambling venues, whether they be state operated, or tribally operated. In a rural area, there aren’t a lot of things to do.


DENNIS McNEILLY: A lot of the older group hadn’t gambled until gambling became locally available. Some people would refer to this as kind of a hidden addiction among this age group, because the current cohort of older adults tend to be rather stoic, and so they tend to want to take care of their own problems. (gentle music) NARRATOR: Dr. Dennis McNeilly uncovers gambling problems in older adults, here at the Center for Successful Aging, at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.


McNEILLY: We understand it a lot more with the PET scans, with the neuroimaging scans. We understand sort of the corollaries between those who develop gambling problems and sort of how the brain gets lit up as they say, gets activated, similar to folks who have cocaine addiction. So we understand it a lot better, the pathways, and we’re also much better about understanding the cravings that people who are gamblers have. (quiet, intense music) DR. McNEILLY: I always go back to one of the first patients that I saw, they’d had a slight stroke, and then they were in the hospital. And then in the hospital they decided that this person was depressed, so then they asked me to go and see the person and evaluate them.

And in the course of that, I found out that they had, you know, maxed out all their credit cards, and then the couple had to declare bankruptcy, you know.

All because of this sort of unknown, hidden. And the shame, the humiliation. And yet they were trying to get out of this, and trying to get out of this, and got stuck. So I’ve really sort of taken this on, and then thought that this was a good way to educate medical students and our psychiatry residents, so that they start to screen for gambling problems in the same way they screen for tobacco, you know, or alcohol, or anything else. That it’s something that, you know, it’s part of everybody, and it’s certainly gonna be more a part of people’s lives as we have lots of younger folks who, you know, have been attracted and continue to gamble, and gambling becomes very popular, and it’s more culturally mainstream.

BAUERKEMPER: For 30 years I’ve been fighting the federal governments, the state governments, the state agencies, the private industries, the gaming industries, to spend just a little bit of time, effort, and money to help people that have this problem. And with states that either authorize gambling or have their own forms of gambling, you know, I think it’s a public safety issue.

Come on, if you’re gonna do this, and you’re gonna make money at it, help the people who are devastated. You don’t have to help the social gambler that goes in, spends 20 bucks, and that’s it. You have to help the people that aren’t, that spend their life savings.

(quiet, intense music) ELIZABETH: I don’t think people can appreciate a gambling addiction like they do alcohol or drug addiction. I think they think it’s just willpower.

You know, some people might say that about drug and alcohol too, but there’s a chemical that binds and makes you have that addiction. Whereas gambling, it’s a choice that you make to literally walk in the door, plunk your money in, and keep playing until you have no more.

People don’t understand that. That you can’t stop. When it’s an addiction.

(gentle piano music) (quiet, intense music) Captioning by Finke/NET (quiet, intense music) Copyright 2018, NET Foundation for Television.