Gambling addiction, or compulsive gambling, is a serious problem in America that affects millions of people and can ruin your life, career, and marriage. I wanted to share with you how blackjack and poker almost ruined my life a few years ago.
It all started so innocently. Several years ago, a group of friends that I worked with got together every week for a friendly local game of Texas Hold’em poker. It was so much fun. I really fell in love with the game and started to follow it religiously. I would watch it on television and used to even subscribe to poker magazines. Did you even know that people actually publish large national poker magazines? Well, they do…several actually. A buddy and I went up to Atlantic City for the first time soon thereafter, and I tried my hand at a live tournament inside an actual casino. I was so nervous. Then, when I got home, I started playing online….a lot. The habit picked up steam and started snowballing before I even realized.
A gambling addiction can sneak up on you
A big problem was that I would win a little here and a little there, and that would keep me going through the string of bad luck that seemed to go on forever. It is called the gambler’s fallacy when you think that your luck is sure to change because you have been on a huge losing streak even though the odds of winning or losing have not changed. I started to get better than my weekly pickup game with the boys, and I eventually left them behind. Only a friend or two kept up with me and my addiction to poker. One of my closest friends at the time was also bitten by the poker bug and got sucked in even deeper than I did.
And, then things got worse. My family and I moved out to a Plains State where you could play blackjack in every bar and a Native American casino with its very own poker room was only an hour away. Blackjack is legal in bars and restaurants in the state where I used to live because all of the proceeds went to a charity instead of a casino’s pockets. Let me tell you, that is a huge racket. The only good thing about getting fleeced by a youth hockey league is that the money went to a good cause. I made more donations to the local hockey league doled out in twenty dollar bills than I have ever given to all other charity throughout my life combined. I soon forgot about Texas Hold’em thanks to my huge losing streak and my new found hobby, trying to count cards at the local blackjack tables. Like most blackjack players, I thought that I had a system to beat the house. I was delusional.
I think that there is a special place in heaven for my wife since she put up with my staying out late at night gambling, not to mention all the spending money I wasted that could have gone to paying our off mounting credit card debt or saving for retirement. There are times when I thank my lucky stars that I moved away and got out of the vicious gambling cycle that I was in. The only thing that saved me was a wake-up call from my wife in a threat of divorce. Your mind can help you kick many habits in an instant when the threat of losing your children are involved. I am very thankful to say that my wife and I are now out of debt and saving for retirement. I have been on a self-imposed gambling ban now for over two years, and I know that making just one bet will send me back to a place where I can never go again.
Two and a half million adults in America are pathological gamblers and another three million of them should be considered problem gamblers. It is estimated that almost half of all Americans gamble in some capacity. It was recently reported in Money Magazine that researchers at Harvard found that the average household spends $514 per year on lotteries alone, which is more than their total annual spending on dairy products.
Are you addicted to gambling?
Gamblers Anonymous asks its new members to answer the following “20 Questions” in order to determine the severity of their gambling addiction:
- Have you ever lost time from work due to gambling?
- Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
- Has gambling affected your reputation?
- Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
- Have you ever gambled to get money to pay debts or solve financial difficulties?
- Has gambling ever caused a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
- After losing, do you feel you must return as soon as possible to win back your losses?
- After winning, do you have a strong urge to return and win more?
- Do you often gamble until you run out of money?
- Have you ever borrowed money to finance your gambling?
- Have you ever sold anything to finance your gambling?
- Are you reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenditures?
- Does gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself and your family?
- Do you ever gamble longer than planned?
- Have you ever gambled to escape worry or trouble?
- Have you ever committed or considered committing an illegal act to finance gambling?
- Has gambling ever caused you to have difficulty sleeping?
- Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?
- Do you ever get the urge to celebrate any good fortune with a few hours of gambling?
- Have you ever considered self destruction as a result of your gambling?
If you answered yes to seven or more of the questions listed above, you may have a problem controlling your gambling. If you have a problem with gambling addiction, there are ways to get help. You can find counselors and other resources at the Gambler’s Anonymous website, the National Council on Problem Gambling (which lists a state by state record of help centers), and the National Center of Responsible Gaming.
Ryan’s note: I want to thank Hank for sharing his story – no doubt it was difficult to write and share. As for gambling itself, it can be a fun form of entertainment if you are able to keep it within limits. If, like Hank, you lose control when you gamble, please get the help you need to stop gambling. Your family, career, and retirement savings, are much more important than one more score.
Photo credit: Fabio.