TORONTO—Terry Finn led a double life for many years, slipping away from his sales job on weekdays to try his luck at the casino and place bets on horse races.
“There was an excitement at the track for me, for sure,” said Finn, 62, who describes himself as a recovering compulsive gambler.
“I used the phrase ‘I like to see my money run’ many times.”
But now Finn, who lives in Ottawa, is chair of the Responsible Gambling Council—and helping to launch a campaign warning other baby-boomers to give themselves a “reality check” and make sure that occasional gambling doesn’t morph into a serious problem as they head towards retirement.
He said he’d probably be retired himself now if he hadn’t lost an estimated $500,000 over about 40 years of gambling.
About 2.1 percent of Ontario adults in the 55-plus age group have a gambling problem, which is lower than in the general population, the council said. But the bulging size of the baby-boom demographic makes it a concern.
Ultimately, it’s estimated that by 2020, close to 100,000 Ontario seniors and their families could be affected by gambling problems—up from 67,000 now.
John Borody, CEO of the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, said we won’t know for a few years about whether recession-related changes occurring in society now will lead to more people addicted to gambling or alcohol.
Problem gamblers often are at the lower end of the income spectrum and probably have a lower-lever education, he noted.
“And I think they’re doing it because they see this as the hope of getting out of the rut,” Borody said from Winnipeg.
“This could put more pressure on them, if there’s a feeling by this group that they’re going to have trouble finding a job, or maintaining a job. That’s where I think there is risk,” he warned.
The council convened focus groups with people who have a family member with a gambling problem in hopes of finding useful advice to offer “boomers” on the point of retiring—or those who might be laid off because of the downturn in the economy.
“They wanted people to understand that gambling is meant to be a form of entertainment,” said Jon Kelly, CEO of the council. “If you start looking at it as a way to make money, that’s a kind of attitude that can set you up for a problem.
“It’s important that people be aware, that during times like this, during times of stress and transition, they can easily become more susceptible to a range of problems, including a gambling problem,” he stressed.
The awareness program is financially supported by the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion, which sets aside a small percentage of gross gambling revenues to help problem gamblers.
In Finn’s case, he was a closet gambler.
“Towards the end of it, I would go home first thing in the morning and intercept the mail so the past-due notices and everything were not seen by my wife,” he said.
“We were at the point of losing our car and behind in our rent and behind in all the bills, and I just finally got to the point where I couldn’t keep it hidden any longer,” he added.
Nine years ago, he went to the casino and asked that he be barred—or as they put it, self-excluded. That was followed by three years of counselling—and happily, his family and employer stuck by him.
“At my age, you don’t have a lot of years to recover your losses,” Finn noted. “It’s not like somebody at 20 or 30 who has gone through a problem, blown a bunch of money, but has still got a lot of good earning years ahead if they’re able to overcome their problem.
“If you’re in your 50s or 60s, you don’t have that advantage.”