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Addict Recounts Hardship

13 February 2003

by Rod Smith

LAS VEGAS -- There are an estimated 30,000 Southern Nevadans who are problem gamblers. This is one of their stories.

The subject asked not to be named because of the embarrassment his stories could cause friends, family, colleagues and loved ones.

The problem gambler was raised in Las Vegas, and started out "small, placing bets at the Horseshoe" starting in 1974. His gambling progressed gradually, and just got worse and worse.

"Gambling dismantled me. It's an obsession. It's a driving force with more power than sex or drugs. It's all you think about every hour of every day," he said.

Over a quarter century, he has been convicted of stealing $6.6 million and sentenced to five years' probation. He has blown $2.2 million on a baccarat game.

He has been forced to file a $4 million bankruptcy petition, lost 10 homes and folded two businesses.

He lost his college tuition and was kicked out of school, and he attempted suicide three times. He can't leave his home, can't keep friends, can't get married and can't eat or sleep.

A new study out of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, estimates the social cost of problem gambling among Southern Nevadans at $300 million to $450 million a year, but it would be hard to measure the wreckage of this problem gambler's life.

He is being treated for the disease and medication calms down the manic depressive highs and lows, but "there is something inside my brain that goes off. It's an impulse, and the bigger the bet, the more the euphoria."

"I actually lost my tuition (in the fall of 1977). I was going to UNR. My parents gave me $5,000 for tuition and I blew it all on one game," he said.

Since he couldn't go to school, he got jobs at Harrah's in Reno, but the proximity to gambling only exacerbated the problem.

The spiral continued through 1999 when he had to file for bankruptcy protection with $3.5 million to $4 million in debts, all stemming from his problem gambling.

"I had owned 11 homes because I was a real estate developer. They took everything but one house and one car to pay off creditors, and the house had to be worth under $125,000," he said.

In 2000, he sought treatment through Gamblers Anonymous here and then the Trimeridian Custer Gambling Treatment Center in Indianapolis, the only hospital in the United States specializing in the treatment of adults affected by pathological gambling.

"I was suicidal. I was put in a complete lockdown for 42 straight days dealing with the problem," he said.

The Trimeridian treatment cost $20,000, largely covered by insurance, and now he is on six drugs that cost $250 a month.

Still, the compulsive gambling continued until two years ago when "I ran out of money," he said.

He got a check for $6.6 million from his pension and profit-sharing plan instead of the $66,000 for which he had applied. "I blew $2 million of that at a baccarat table at Caesars Palace," he said.

A subsequent audit found the discrepancy and led to his 2002 conviction for stealing $6.6 million. As a result, he is on probation and can't step foot in a casino.

"The probation is what keeps me from gambling right now. Without probation, I'd probably gamble more," he said.

The addiction and recovery programs have taken over his life, he said.

"I have to go straight home every day. I can only go out for a few hours a day. I can't sleep at night. I've had to give up all my friends. It's all a life-altering change," he said.

He is bitter and believes casino companies are doing "a very superficial job" at addressing the issue.

"They won't back anyone off a game when they're losing hundreds of thousands of dollars. They never backed me off. As long as you have money, they want you to gamble. Same with markers," he said.

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