My name is Jack. I’m a 38-year-old married man living happily with my wife and two kids, age 11 and 13. Other than the occasional lottery ticket and 50/50 draw, I never had the slightest interest in gambling until about a year ago. In fact, had you asked me then, I would have told you that gambling was a complete waste of time and money.
So how did I get into such a mess? It all started innocently enough. A year ago, my daughter was heavily involved in competitive swimming, and I was taking her to lots of workouts and competitions. The competitions were fun to watch, but the workouts were tedious – lots of sitting around. One Saturday I got thinking about a VLT location not far from the pool. A co-worker of mine had mentioned that he had just won $1000 from a VLT. At that time, money was a little tight at home, and while winning $1000 would have helped us out a lot with our expenses, I knew that it wouldn’t change our world.
So, I went to the hotel and took a look around. The number of people there surprised me – I actually had to wait for a free VLT. I had no idea how to operate the machine, so I sat down and played with a few buttons. The person at the next machine helped me. I told him that I liked card games, and he leaned over, punched a few buttons and a video poker game came up on the screen.
I popped in $20 and started playing a quarter at a time, but nothing much happened – I won a few bets and lost a lot more. The guy beside said he couldn’t help but notice I was only playing a quarter at a time. He said that it’s impossible to win the big prizes if you bet that small, adding that since it was early in the day, the machine likely needed a “warm up” to get it paying. I found this quite funny at the time, but after he left I bumped up my bet to $1.25 and gave it a whirl. Wouldn’t you know it – the machine started handing me money until I was up to about $400. Just then, my cell phone rang – it was my daughter saying she was finished at the pool. I mumbled something about running into a friend at the mall and said I’d be right over.
During the drive to pick her up, I had a few thoughts and feelings swirling around in my head. The first was a smug feeling – I had $400 in bills bulging in my wallet. The second was guilt about the first little white lie I had told my daughter. Third was the thought that I should keep the whole thing from my wife, partly because she was even more opposed to gambling than I was.
I stayed away from the VLTs for a few weeks – mostly because I was feeling a little embarrassed about how easy it had been to lie to my daughter and to keep the whole thing from my wife. One day, though, my friends and I went to a lounge after a hockey game, and we each threw in $5 to play a VLT. The money went in a flash, and we all left the lounge. I made a quick circuit around the block, went back into the lounge and found the same machine we had all been playing. I was thinking the machine was probably due to pay now, partly because of the haphazard way my buddies had been playing earlier. Not 20 minutes later, I cashed out $600! That money helped me pay off a nasty Visa bill, and again I laid low on the machines. It felt like I had stumbled upon a little secret, but was unsure of what really to make of it.
Understand that I’m just a normal guy, and I didn’t become a gambling addict right then. Little by little, I started to play more – sometimes after work, other times when I was waiting for my daughter’s practices to finish. The fact was that gambling was ridiculously easy to hide – I actually jumped at the chance to chauffeur the kids anywhere because it gave me a good chance to play.
I think I crossed the line when I was at my brother’s place one day. I was half listening to my sister-in-law’s chatter when I felt a strong urge to play. I made an excuse about needing to get home to help my son with his homework. I remember the feeling of relief when I sat down, anticipating a nice payday. After all, I had witnessed enough “bad” play from VLT players to know how to get any machine to pay. This night, though, the gambling gods left me on my own, and all my previous “knowledge” seemed to be no good. Five ATM visits and almost $1200 later, I left. Five hours had gone by.
Unfortunately, my wife had called my brother’s place, only to discover that I had left hours ago. I told her the first truly gigantic whopper lie of my life – that I’d left to attend a going-away lunch for a co-worker. My wife believed the whole story, and I knew it was very unlikely that she would check it out.
I do the banking in the family, so the $1200 was something only I would be aware of. To say I was disgusted with what I’d done was an understatement, and I swore I’d never let it happen again. The only problem was getting back the $1200. I stayed away from VLTs completely for two weeks, giving myself time to cool off and figure out how to make a quick hit on the machines. I would then put the whole thing behind me. I had made some bad decisions on the machine that night and thought I would be a lot smarter next time.
I planned my next gambling “affair” with military precision. I took only cash with me, and I had a believable excuse for a five to six hour departure from home. I was determined to study the machines so I could decide the right time and the right machine to use to recover the loss. I had also decided in advance how much I could lose and was determined not to get too greedy: if I got up $500, I’d get out. You can probably predict the result. I actually did get up $600, then I switched machines and decided to go for it all. Needless to say, the luck left me and the $600 was lost, along with another $1000. I actually snuck home while everyone was sleeping, grabbed my debit card and went back to get a cash advance. I lost it all.
You can see the nasty situation I’m in now – down almost $10,000, and my wife thinks everything’s fine. The rest of the story is the same old thing over and over again – I promise myself that I won’t gamble, then I break the promise again and again. The only problem is that now my wife is talking about a trip. I’m avoiding the discussion because there is no money.
I could, of course, confess the whole thing and probably risk losing my wife and family. Or perhaps I could go to one of those meetings where you drink coffee and talk. I’ve never been one to complain about my problems, especially when I’m the one who created this mess. I am not a bad person; I don’t know how things have gone so wrong.
“For many individuals, problem gambling develops quickly. The experience of early wins often changes the person’s view of gambling from being a source of entertainment to a means of winning money. Through recognition of the problem, along with a willingness to seek help, the problem gambler’s situation can be alleviated.”