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Encore
A blog about living in and planning for retirement

Race Horses Crush a Nest Egg

There’s not much to feel good about in the ongoing story of 66-year-old Henry Wolfson of Skokie, Ill. To sum up: On Labor Day weekend, the local newspaper runs a heart-tugging story about Wolfson, a much-liked substitute teacher (unmarried, no kids) whose low pay and struggles with medical bills have forced him to live in a homeless shelter. The much-liked teacher’s former students launch fundraising drives to help him out. A few weeks later, the local newspaper reports something it had neglected to dig into earlier, which is that the much-liked teacher had lost about $180,000 in a little over a year gambling in off-track betting parlors, squandering most of a 2007 inheritance.

Wolfson is now offering refunds to anyone who donated to his cause, and the local paper is offering a mea culpa for having failed to do a basic background check that might have unearthed details about his inheritance. But the saga is mostly playing out in the media as a who-suckered-who story, ignoring what seems to me to be the more salient point: this much-liked 60-something gentleman blew $180,000 on the ponies—in barely a year!

Gambling opponents have been up in arms for decades the way the gaming industry woos seniors. Psychologists generally agree that some common problems that plague older people – loneliness, boredom and mild cognitive impairment – can make a night at the casino or the OTB sound like both a relief from sorrow and a “sure thing” financial proposition.

The most prominent study I could find that tried to hang a number on the senior-gambling issue (admittedly not very recent, as it’s from 2005) surveyed a group of Philadelphia seniors and found that 70% had gambled in the past year, while about 11% exhibited signs of having a gambling problem – betting more than they could afford to lose, for example. What’s 11% multiplied by 78 million baby boomers? An enormous financial headache waiting to happen.

 

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About Encore

  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.

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