Gambling: The path to obsession
January 30, 2008
‘It’s always going to be a part of my life’For “Tony,” a former soldier turned Defense Department civilian working in Germany, an addiction to alcohol and gambling went hand in hand. So has the recovery.
“It started out as just a small thing for some amusement,” said Tony, who asked that his real name not be used, pursuant to the tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous. “Over a period of time, it progressed into something that was more important. If I wanted to have fun and do something exciting, that’s what I would do.”
Gambling is a particularly nasty addiction, he said, because on its own, the addict stays in a clear state-of-mind.
“What excuse does the gambler have? It’s not like they’re taking a chemical or can say ‘Hey, I was drunk,’” he said. “You’re the one who took money out of your kid’s savings account and went gambling. How do you defend it?”
The lies that went along with his gambling addiction caught up to him pretty fast, he said.
He’d go on a work trip, then spend the TDY money he was reimbursed — even as his wife asked when the money would arrive.
At one point, he took out a loan that was supposed to go to creditors, but he lost it trying to parlay it into more through the slot machines.
Eventually the lies caught up to him and he sought help for alcohol and gambling addictions, he said.
Now as the years pass, Tony said he’s slowly regained his wife’s trust, financially and personally.
He said he hasn’t had a drink or gambled since 2001.
“Most people don’t change because they want to,” he said. “There has to be a consequence.”
Yet, it’s still a struggle.
His Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor just started gambling again after seven years.
“… After my sponsor went back out, I had a couple dreams about it, which is kind of scary,” he said. “It’s always going to be a part of my life.”
‘I’m basically like the person you see in the AFN commercial’When Dave first arrived in Germany about a decade ago as a soldier, he said he was warned to avoid the slot machines at his post. But he started playing his change from the shoppette at a nearby slot machine. Over the next few years, he lost $20,000.
“It started out 20 bucks at a time, then 40 bucks, and then I wouldn’t go and play without 100 bucks,” said Dave, who asked that his last name not be published.
After winning big once, he wanted to play all the time.
“I’m basically like the person you see in the AFN commercial, exactly,” said Dave, who now works for the Army as a civilian in the U.S. “You wouldn’t catch me admitting that to anybody. It’s just shameful.”
Over a few years, Dave would go on hot and cold streaks, losing or winning up to $600 a day.
“I could get there at 6 at night and be upset when they were closing at midnight,” he said. “I’d never leave unless I had all my money back or had lost all my money.”
At first he made up excuses to his wife about their finances.
“I always found a way to cover my tracks,” he said. “It wasn’t like I had bill collectors on my ass, but I sure as hell didn’t have any spare money.”
But that changed when he brought his wife to the slot machines.
“I got my old lady addicted, too, Dave said. “Then I had a partner in crime.”
His wife soon realized the extent of their losses and helped him quit a few years ago, he said. The birth of their son also helped.
The benefits didn’t take long to emerge, he said.
“After a couple months of quitting, you all of a sudden have all this money,” he said.
‘To me it’s better than sex’“Kevin” knew what his odds were each time he stepped up to a “Game-inator” slot machine while working as an Army civilian at bases across Germany.
But beer, boredom, the shot at some free money and all those lights drew him in.
“There’s no way to avoid it,” Kevin said of the slot machines. “Most soldiers are young, away from home and have very adventurous personalities. They want to take risks, and gambling can be very rewarding if the machines pay out. Most of the time, they don’t.”
Until last year, Kevin worked in places like Baumholder, where there’s not much to do immediately outside the gates.
And once he got a taste of winning, he couldn’t stop.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” said Kevin, who asked that his real name not be used because he is still employed by the Army stateside. “It’s a high people get, and it can last for days. To me it’s better than sex.”
Losing takes you in the opposite direction, he said.
“You’re just miserable,” he said. “We’re not stupid. We know the machines are a rip-off, but that high is very addictive.”
In Baumholder, Kevin met another man who was married to a sergeant first class who was deployed.
They’d hit the slots after work, play till midnight, and return at lunch the next day to recoup their losses — or try to win more.
One night, playing nickel slots that only allow a maximum bet of a few dollars, Kevin still managed to burn through $2,000.
Though they were gambling buddies, Kevin and the sergeant’s husband soon parted ways.
“One night he lost $1,500 in a sitting,” Kevin recalled. “He left (the machine) and the next guy came behind him and hit the jackpot, about $1,400.”
Kevin’s friend accused him of tipping the guy off.
“He wanted to fight me at the bowling center,” Kevin said. “They had to pull him off me.”
Kevin said he no longer gambles. He attributes much of his former habit to boredom and the fact that American military communities overseas are full of “captive consumers.”
“The military should not be in the business of promoting bad habits,” he said.
Kevin said he doesn’t know what happened to his old gambling companion.
“When his wife came back (from deployment), they were almost broke because he spent most of their money on slot machines. She was upset because all her soldiers were driving new cars and living the good life, and she had nothing to show for it after 15 months in Iraq. He blew it all on slot machines.”