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Blackjack and Texas Hold’em Poker Almost Ruined My Life – How to Get Gambling Addiction Help

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This is a guest post from Hank, a blogger who writes about personal finance and money issues on his blog Own The Dollar and a military money blog Military Money Might.

pokerGambling 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:

  1. Have you ever lost time from work due to gambling?
  2. Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
  3. Has gambling affected your reputation?
  4. Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
  5. Have you ever gambled to get money to pay debts or solve financial difficulties?
  6. Has gambling ever caused a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
  7. After losing, do you feel you must return as soon as possible to win back your losses?
  8. After winning, do you have a strong urge to return and win more?
  9. Do you often gamble until you run out of money?
  10. Have you ever borrowed money to finance your gambling?
  11. Have you ever sold anything to finance your gambling?
  12. Are you reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenditures?
  13. Does gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself and your family?
  14. Do you ever gamble longer than planned?
  15. Have you ever gambled to escape worry or trouble?
  16. Have you ever committed or considered committing an illegal act to finance gambling?
  17. Has gambling ever caused you to have difficulty sleeping?
  18. Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?
  19. Do you ever get the urge to celebrate any good fortune with a few hours of gambling?
  20. 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.


Published or updated February 27, 2011.
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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 rm

That quiz is terrible. I play poker professionally and a bunch of my pro friends and I took that quiz for a joke…and we worked out that a PRO necessarily will answer at least 8 questions in the positive.

Do you gamble longer than planned? Well, yeah. I plan to play 4hours today…the tables are extra juicy, so I play an extra hour.

Have you ever gambled to get money to pay debts or solve financial difficulties? Well, yeah. That’s kindof the definition of doing it professionally – I do it to make money!

Are you reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenditures? Yeah…it’s called a BANKROLL, every single pro has one that is separate from normal finances.

It goes on…that list is a bad quiz.

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2 Ryan

rm:You and your pro friends are in a select minority of people, because let’s face it, the number of professional gamblers compared to the number of recreational gamblers is tiny. But I’m sure that works out well for you!

There is probably a higher percentage of pro players where you are (like minds find each other and also go where gambling is legal), and you surround yourself with a higher percentage of people who have learned how to recognize when they are on their A game and when they have the edge. This article is not aimed toward pro gamblers, and I have no problem with gambling for recreation or as a profession.

But I’m sure you and your friends have known people who lost their edge or never had it to begin with. Those people are who this article is aimed toward. For the general population or people who have no learned to recognize their abilities when it comes to gambling, this quiz is probably spot on.

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3 Mr. ToughMoneyLove

The gambling rages non-stop among the poorest of our citizens through state lotteries. The worse things get, the more they seem to spend. It’s really almost criminal considering that most of the money goes to higher education which is right up there with health care as being hugely inefficient.

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4 Manshu

WOW! There are professional gamblers!

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5 Kristy @ Master Your Card

Thanks for sharing your story, Hank! I’ve always wondered where the addiction really comes into play for most people. I went to a casino in Louisiana and lost $5 at the slot machine and that was enough for me. I’ve played the lottery a handful of times, most of those times I have been fortunate enough to win enough to cover the cost of the ticket and then enough for another ticket or two.

I definitely think there is a correlation between those who gamble religiously and finally make a big win, and squandering it away. Those people who win major lotteries that end up filing for bankruptcy do so because they never learned to manage money – obviously, as they bought lottery tickets instead of paying the bills. In your case, it sounds as if you were fortunate enough to have a family that was able to help you overcome your addiction.

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6 DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad

Congrats on turning your life around– stay strong each and every day.

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7 Wiwi

Hey I wanted to ask you a question mybe you can help me… I am 18 and I play texas holdem my mum is frustrated and she doesnt want me to cause she said it can turn into an addiction and I BELIEVE it can. But when I play I dont play for the money and we only play like $10 and use 2k chips for example and its only once a week. I like the feel when ur in though hands trying to get reads on your opponent, trying to calculate their bet patterns and pot odds. Do you think I am on the road of becoming an addict cause I mostly want to take it as a “sport” and I realy like this game cause I think it does require skill compared to other gambling games.

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8 Ryan

Wiwi: It’s not for me to say whether you are on the road to addiction or not. Poker can be seen as a sport, as there are many people who play simply for the challenge of the game. There are others who play professional poker and do quite well at it, and addiction is not a problem for them. Then there are people who don’t know how to handle gambling in any respect.

My advice for you is that if you decide you want to play, then be able to honestly assess your motives, abilities, and reasons for playing. If you ever feel the need to take a break, then take a break. If you can’t bear to go away from the game and feel you need to play, then you may in fact be addicted.

Best of luck

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9 Chris

I think that signing up for a program that can offer you some counseling regarding this issue will certainly help.

There was an old saying that gambling is not a problem unless you are losing money!

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10 Bjorn

Thanks for highlighting the effects of online gambling. In my country the government has started with state owned casinos which is in my opinion really bad.

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11 Joe Cada

Its better to have self control. In my country there was a bank employee with a high rank that had access to the money, he took 100.000 euros and went to the casino. Lost all of them, then tried to commit suicide. He didnt succeed and now he lives with those debts…

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12 Cindy Lu

I have an addiction to gambling. where I live there are Indian Casino’s everywhere I use to drive by one everyday to go to and from work. It only took one time for me to go in there and I was addicted. I played the slots. At first I could put $20 dollars in there and win $40 dollars then get up and leave,but it got harder and harder to do that. I’ve won alot of jackpots from $1,ooo to $5,000. I was really hooked then I could’nt stop I wanted to win more and more. Then I went on the losing streak you think its going to hit just one more spin it’s bound to hit but it does’nt then before you know it you have lost $100 dollars then your whole paycheck its horriable. I had to quit my job so I would’nt have to drive by there anymore. I’m trying to quit and it is very hard. If I don’t have any money I can’t go. That why I found this web site trying to find ways to KICK THIS ADDICTION TO GAMBLING. Thanks for listening.

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13 Di

Cindy Lu. I suggest putting yourself on the EXCLUSION LIST with the Gambler’s Commission. I was there also. Completely in the same situation. My mortgage was less than the amount I lost two year’s ago on slots. I had to refinance. My husband threatened divorce and insisted I put myself on the Exclusion list. I am now banned from any casino in my state. They took my picture and I had to sign tons of documents. Sure I could still go but I enjoy using the cards the casinos give you to get the freebies as well as free slot dollars, etc. Since I can’t use my card because I will then get caught I don’t go any more. I took over a year to get that urge out of me. I’m better now…. except I have another addiction now… Ebay!

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14 Orlando

The words “professional” and “poker” do not even go together; poker is gambling, it is not a profession or a sport. The media has simply spun things to legitimize poker in the minds of the public. Every so-called “professional” poker player is a gambling addict – staking other players, engaging in high-risk betting in other things (like the outcome of other poker matches, sports, stocks, etc). They generally spend they’re “bankroll” very quickly on things that simply fund the casino & gambling industry; they’re sense of money is warped by the large sums that they bet / win/ lose at the poker table. Thus, even though these poker “pros” have cash flow, they really can’t hold onto it for very long and or really tabulate their profits; they mostly reinvest in poker games. Furthermore, the “professional” poker economy is a small mostly closed loop, pretty disconnected from the rest of the economy and relies on so-called “fish” (bad players, vicitims) to bring more money into the mix. Bottom Line: there is no such thing as professional poker. It’s really a very dubious and questionable way to make a living; certainly not admirable, certainly not contributing a lick to society or the betterment of humankind. Anyone who has the idea of a “professional” poker justified in their mind is pretty pathetic and tragic.

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