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Granny's got a gambling jones

Tom Allen battles a scoliosis condition affecting his back. He's 61 and doctors say he'll need a new knee in three to five years. And when you live in Manchester, Maine, winters keep a body trapped indoors.

But Allen doesn't mind. He's found a new way to pass the time: online Texas Hold 'Em poker. Since October 2004, he's read the books, taken the courses and studied the game in much the same way he once got his golf game to a 2 handicap.

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His goal is to someday win a seat at the World Series of Poker. Already he's placed 38th out of the 500-plus participants who entered a tournament to seek a shot at the big time. Meanwhile, the six hours a day he devotes to the game means he's closing in on membership in Empire Poker's Royal Flush Club, where the online casino will award him with a $100 monthly bonus to play, along with gifts and additional tournament options.

"The poker thing is fantastic," he says. "It requires a lot of concentration, and my mental stamina is great."

Currently, he can handle four tables simultaneously, displayed on four computer screens his nephew rigged up. He's confident the hobby will remain precisely that because he sticks at the 50 cent and dollar levels, and, "I'm not good at losing. I'd quit if that were happening."

Recently, Pat Fowler, the executive director of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, picked up the hotline to help a caller who desperately needed advice. A neighbor at the retirement center was sitting on her front porch with nowhere to go -- thanks to a gambling problem. Officials had just foreclosed on his condo.

Anecdotal feedback like this prompted David Oslin, M.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, to peer into the problem. Even his cursory glance caught him a bit off guard.

"Seventy percent of the seniors who responded to my survey said they gambled in the last year. I wouldn't have thought it was quite that high," he says.

Of that number, 11 percent were identified as at-risk gamblers, defined as folks who plunked down more than $100 in a single bet, gambled more than they could afford to lose, or both.

"And the disappointing piece is that these were folks who were more likely to have mental health problems like cognitive impairment," he adds. Nationally the rate for problem gambling has hovered at 4 percent to 5 percent, so Oslin considers 11 percent a flag.

He has company. The National Gambling Impact study in 1999 revealed the only significant increase in gambling among age groups took place in the older adult category -- and this segment had more than doubled since the previous study in 1974.

Florida's most recent studies show that monthly and weekly gamblers are most likely white, married males living in the south or south-central part of the state who served in the military. Based on common addiction screening methods, .8 percent of seniors in the Sunshine State can be classified as lifetime pathological gamblers, 1 percent are lifetime problem gamblers and 8 percent are at-risk gamblers. In raw numbers, that breaks down to a minimum of 318,000 seniors in one state whose gambling crosses the line between entertainment and trouble.

The Perfect Audience
Casino owners, of course, recognize a good target audience when they see one -- and people with time on their hands make an excellent target. The casinos roll out the red carpet with everything from free transportation to Lawrence Welk stars, turning gaming into a cultural event.
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-- Posted: Feb. 28, 2005

Plus: Signs of a problem gambler



10 money-saving tips from the Frugal Gambler


Lessons for low rollers from the Queen of Comps


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