Her First Bet at Age Six Lead to a Lifetime Obsession with Gambling
I always knew that I was a gambler, willing to take risks and bet money I didn’t have from a very young age. I can recall stealing money from my mother’s coin purse to feed my addiction of flipping cards and coins, playing marbles, and paying off lost bets at about 6 years old. My first gambling venture was attending a weekly bingo at the local Officers Club with my mother at the age of 12 and winning a television set…..that pretty much hooked me early on for playing bingo. My bingo playing got out of hand in Arizona in the early 80’s and I was obsessed with playing 7 days a week to feed my addiction; including driving roundtrip up and down an unlit, dirt mountainous road in order to make bingo in Phoenix each weeknight.
This progressed in Hawaii (one state without legal gambling), where I was able to play bingo a different place each night at the various military installations. The jackpots, substantial but not like the Indian casinos or 24hr bingo available in Las Vegas, managed to satisfy my needs for a bit. Then, I moved to Las Vegas in 1995, finally realizing my dream since 1982 and my very first visit to Las Vegas—a Disneyland atmosphere for a compulsive gambler!!
My first 7-8 years were ‘normal’, in that I was able to get my fix of bingo and play some $.05 machines and had a daily habit of about $40- manageable. I used to see these women sitting at video poker machines, transfixed with glazed expressions and would wonder how they could sit for so long? A few years later, I tried out one of these machines while killing time for the buffet line to go down, and husband and I hit 4 deuces on a Deuces Wild quarter machine for $1000. Omigosh, are you kidding? So, I started playing the nickel video poker machines and found that they made me ‘happy’. Then, one day I happened to hit a Reversible Jackpot on a royal flush (I was so dumb that I did not know that most machines a royal flush didn’t have to be in order.) and instead of $200 jackpot that I expected, it was $2500. Well, needless to say, my play immediately jumped to quarters on the Triple Play and dollars. My thought process was something like, “It takes money to make money” and why waste time playing nickel machines??
As it’s been said in 12-step literature, this is a progressive, baffling, insidious disease. It is an addiction like no other; one that tells you that you don’t have a problem (you just need more money) and on the other hand, tells you that all will be restored if you just score that one big jackpot!! When this doesn’t happen, this disease tells you to just end your life and make it better for those around you. For me, an educated, savvy, logical, smart woman I was actually entertaining thoughts of robbing banks or some old person leaving the casino. After a tour of a medium-level prison in town, I realized that if I was to commit a crime, than I would have to die by cop or suicide because life in prison was not for me! My gambling continued to progress even faster and I was running out of resources for more money. I had several credit cards that were maxed out (and husband unaware of these cards), already taken a 401k loan, using the bank’s convenient payroll deposit loan, cashed in my mutual fund and savings bonds, and wiped out most of our savings. I had tried to stop many times on my own, to no avail. I was a bitter, irritable (okay, angry) woman and the stress was killing me- to the point that my doctor had referred me to a cardiologist, who had prescribed nitroglycerin tablets!!
I had looked into counseling for stopping gambling and they wanted $3500…I didn’t have that kind of money to help me, but I still managed to find even more over the next two years. By February 2002, I had two suicide plans that I was finalizing because I was terrified of the consequences of the fallout and afraid of me. Once more, I picked up the phone and called the hotline for Gamblers Anonymous and had tons of reasons why I couldn’t attend a meeting that day. I scoped out the location of one of the meetings and told my husband I was attending, but in reality, was just down the street at my favorite casino. I would get home about the time the meeting ended and no one was the wiser, until he decided to attend one of the meetings with me. Yes, I was ‘out-ed’ at the meeting that this really was my first time and just confirmed the prolific liar I had become. However, I felt such hope after that first meeting and began attending one or more meetings a day! I had found some people to cling to, ask questions of, and let them coddle me through. I have had only one brief relapse since entering the program- it came 13 days after starting the program and fell on my first payday. I found myself sitting in the parking lot, with the local phone list and my phone in one hand and $10 bill in the other. I decided to try that ‘small bet experimentation’ and played a roll of quarters, one quarter at a time (this by the way is torture for a compulsive gambler). A few hours later, the husband found me and we had one last drink (paid for by my points)….the best thing he did for me was to not blow up or get angry, but stayed calm. I returned to my home meeting the next day, admitted to having gambled the day before, and began my journey again. With the grace of my Higher Power (who I call God), I will celebrate 10 years of recovery on March 8, 2012!!!
For me, this is a life-long journey and today I am a very grateful, recovering compulsive gambler. Through my 12-step program, I have found faith, friends, myself, love, and a new way of thinking and living. I cannot imagine my life without a 12-step program and so for today, one day at a time I remain vigilant and aware that caught off guard, I am just one bet away from disaster and for me, a certain death.
Karen – Las Vegas