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Advisor gives advice to seniors about gambling without becoming a problem

WEST SPRINGFIELD – According to GameSense’s Amy Gabrila, seniors are an important demographic for the gaming industry, but there are things they should know about gambling to stay out of trouble.

Gabrila appeared at the West Springfield Senior Center on Oct. 14 as part of the Council on Aging’s “Learn & Lunch” series designed to educate older adults on a variety of important topics.

According to its website, gamesensema.com, “Introduced by the British Columbia Lottery Corporation in 2009, GameSense has won international recognition as the Best Overall Responsible Gaming Program from the World Lottery Association (2010) and the National Council on Problem Gambling’s United States Social Responsibility Award (2015) In addition to being licensed and piloted at MGM Resorts International casino properties, the program has also been implemented by the Connecticut Lottery and the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

GameSense runs programs at all three Massachusetts casinos to prevent gambling problems.

Gabrila gave a strong message: bet for fun and put on and keep your limits.

Gabrilla said, “Don’t let making money be your main motivation.” He emphasized that playing slots or table games should be for “fun and entertainment.”

Gabrila has been working at GameSense for seven years, but she also has experience on the other side. She spent 17 years in the gambling industry nationwide as a table game dealer, supervisor, booth manager and shift manager.

Citing statistics from 2013, the most recent year for which they are available, he said 32 percent of seniors who gamble do so for money, while 27 percent participate for entertainment. Eighteen percent do so to support worthy causes, 15 percent are there for socializing, and 4 percent go to casinos to escape emotions or problems.

Before Massachusetts opened the three casinos, he said 61 percent of seniors played the state lottery, while only 20 percent went to casinos in other states.

He said seniors are a “valuable demographic” for casinos, adding: “You’re the bread and butter … these guys [the gambling industry] I want to make you happy.”

Gabrilla said one should enjoy getting a “big win” rather than changing a person’s gambling habits.

Contrary to what some people think, there is no such thing as a “hot” slot machine, he stressed. Today’s slot machines are completely random. Just because a machine hasn’t gotten a win doesn’t mean it’s “due” to get one. He added that the state Gaming Commission checks all Massachusetts slot machines monthly to make sure they are operating properly.

To play “happy and healthy”, Gabrila offered a set of guidelines: set a limit on both money and time to spend; take breaks; remember it’s okay to walk away with money; and balance play with other activities. Leaving the ATM card at home is one way to stick to a budget, he added.

He also offered several conditions to watch for that could indicate a problem. If a person sees gambling becoming a concern or if a person is betting larger and larger amounts, this could mean that a person is struggling. Additional indicators include whether a person is chasing losses, feeling restless or angry, or borrowing money to gamble.

It added that 8% of older people are considered “at risk” of problem gambling, with 1.6% meeting criteria for gambling disorders.

Gabrilla urged seniors to visit the GameSense office at MGM Springfield, which is adjacent to the gambling hall, to discuss any gambling-related issues.

According to the GameSense website, seniors who think they may have a problem have options. They may consider the voluntary self-exclusion program; call 800-327-5050 or visit gamblinghelplinema.org to speak with a trained specialist: The helpline is available 24 hours a day, is free, confidential and available in multiple languages; learn about outpatient treatment centers offered by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health; or find a self-help group for seniors who suffer from the same problems.

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