Looking back on it, my desire for gambling was sparked when I was a kid going to carnivals. I couldn’t do enough to win that goldfish or that toy. Little did I know that that insatiable urge would eventually find me sleeping in a casino parking lot on my motorcycle – homeless, jobless and broke.
My dad was always a gambler and a drinker, and I guess that’s just the way I was raised. It all seemed a part of life. My dad would play poker with friends at Christmas and I wanted to play. Instead, I was given a deck of cards to play by myself.
I grew up in a town in South Dakota that, in the 1980s, essentially became the third legal gambling destination in the country — after Las Vegas and Atlantic City. When I turned 16, I managed to play video poker, even though the legal age was 18. I won my first jackpot — winning $125 on 25 cents! — and that was the beginning of the end.
When I turned 21, I was excited to gamble with my dad and brother. I was up for anything to do with gambling.
I gambled off and on for the next 20 years or so. I also had drinking and drug problems and had been in and out of several treatment centers for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2006, I was sentenced to prison for eight years for writing bad checks and fraud. I remember asking the judge if they had a gambling court as they do for drugs and alcohol, but they had no equivalent.
The way I learned about help for gambling in the form of Gamblers Anonymous (GA) was accidental. I was out on parole after four years of the eight-year sentence and was sent to a halfway house. I remember asking if there was an alcohol or drug meeting close by that I could walk to. The response was, “Yes, but unfortunately it’s only a GA meeting.”
I went to that meeting and that’s when I first found a certain sense of home. I remember thinking, “These people understand why I can’t stop gambling.”
When I first found the GA community, I thought I had my gambling woes — as well as drinking and drugs — whooped. But while I found the right people, I didn’t use the tools properly. Still, I knew from then on that I had a place to go.
I had several relapses, including one after I was six years clean. There were times when I thought I could be a social gambler but my addiction would just pick up where it left off. I realized that what I was missing was not believing I was powerless.
For two weeks at the depth of my gambling addiction (along with other addictions), I hit rock bottom. I’d lost my job and relationship, was on meth and was broke. I had no place to go. I slept near the fireplace of a casino until Security kicked me out. That’s how I ended up sleeping with my bike against a wall in a casino parking lot. I really didn’t want to live any more.
But this time I picked myself up. From the casino parking lot, I ended up at the Union Gospel Mission homeless shelter in St. Paul. While there, I had a moment of clarity and remembered that I still had my sponsor’s phone number from when I attended two GA meetings months earlier. I called him, desperate for help. He was willing to help me, but only if I helped myself. I was ultimately able to get to a regional treatment facility, which helped me get to a healthier place, though I still relapsed for a short time after that. I can’t explain why gambling was the one addiction that I relapsed. I’ve come to realize how baffling and powerful a gambling addiction can be.
The last time I relapsed was six months ago. I’ve never stopped going to meetings and I have a powerful circle of recovery friends. I believe that I don’t have another relapse in me.
I’m 51 and starting school at Metro State University. I haven’t picked a major yet but my goal is to try to get into something where I can be a voice for the court system in compulsive gambling. I want to become a licensed alcohol and drug counselor (LADC) and help others like myself.
I definitely feel like I’m a miracle. I was institutionalized for a chunk of my life. I know I’m not perfect today and still have problems, but it’s a much better life.
Gamblers Anonymous (GA) has unveiled an updated Blue Book, the first such revision in nearly 40 years. The purpose of the book is to better serve both new and current members in their search for recovery from gambling addiction.
Specifically, members wanted a book that would:
o Function as a how-to for GA
o Facilitate working with sponsees
o Help members quickly understand the process
o Be something that would help anyone understand what the program is
The existing Blue Book was dated and generally not being used by the fellowship, according to Tom S., a member of the committee charged with producing an updated book. Considerable changes have taken place in gambling since 1984, including online sports betting and the proliferation of casinos.
“Mostly gone are the days of cigar-smoking horse players and sports bettors dropping a dime in a payphone and calling a bookie,” says Tom. “The gamblers coming to our meetings today are more likely to be casino gamblers, gamblers caught up in state-sponsored gambling, female gamblers and younger gamblers. They didn’t find a connection to the Blue Book of 1984.”
The revised book reflects changes that have already occurred in most GA meetings, including an effort to be more inclusive and an emphasis that meetings be solution-based — including recovery steps — rather than “war story” based.
The book was eight years in the making (partially delayed by the pandemic) and was produced by eight active Minnesota GA members with combined sobriety of approximately 120 years. The book is comprised of all original material, with no language borrowed from other twelve-step fellowships (although twelve-step principles and philosophy are woven throughout).
The book encapsulates the vast experience of its contributors and is a storehouse of ideas for recovering gamblers, covering issues such as how to deal with gambling urges, how to go to a meeting, how to get involved in GA, how to choose a sponsor, how to grow in recovery and how to repair relationships. The book also incorporates material from the GA Combo Book.
New chapters were added that address suicide, relapse, sponsorship, and hope and persistence.
“The chapter on suicide is extremely important and, until now, was completely missing from GA literature,” says Tom.
The new book does not include declaratives, such as “you must” or “you have to” statements. Different viewpoints are discussed and the suggestion is made for gamblers to discuss these perspectives with their sponsor or mentors.
The book is valuable for clients of counselors and therapists who choose to pursue their personal recovery journey in GA. Clients may also see themselves in the experiences depicted in the stories section of the book.
“I would encourage those who work with compulsive or problem gamblers to read this book from cover to cover, as it captures both the despair experienced by compulsive gamblers and the better way of life promised by GA,” says Jeannie B., who was also involved in producing the new book. “Professionals can also use the book to deepen their understanding of the GA program.”
To order a copy of the book, please visit gamblersanonymous.org.
The first time someone suggested I might have a gambling problem was in high school. Before I went on a casino trip that I won at an auction, my football coach pulled me aside. He told me to be careful with my gambling, to think about what I was going to do.
Looking back on it, I think it was really insightful for someone in the 1990s to realize that someone might have a gambling problem. Unfortunately, I ignored his advice.
I started gambling at a young age. By the time I was 10, I participated in church-related activities, including cake walks, nickel rolls and games of chance. I also played my share of Bingo.
I grew up at a time when casinos were just getting started in Minnesota, and I often went and gambled there although I was under age.
When I wanted to gamble, I would do whatever it took to get the high. This could be gambling in a casino, playing the lottery or playing cards. I bet on hockey games and would even bet with friends on how many times an elevator would stop at a floor. Everything in my life involved gambling and games of chance.
The first time I sought help for my gambling was around 2007, when I went to Project Turnabout. I didn’t finish treatment, but going there was an eye opener. They told me I was a compulsive gambler, an alcoholic and a drug addict. I didn’t want to hear any of it, so I left. But I did take something from it.
For the next 10 years, I still gambled, though I had bouts of being gambling-free. I was in and out of GA meetings.
I suppose if there were a turning point, it might have been in 2017 when a little old lady pulled me aside at a GA meeting. She was probably frustrated because I still gambled some. I remember she told me three things: 1. “You’re going to make it,” 2. “Whatever you do for the next 12 months, don’t gamble,” and 3. “Keep going to the meetings.”
I found that I took a natural bond to her and what she said. I built a trusting relationship with her. If someone else told me the same thing, it might not have stuck.
I now work as a treatment coordinator. At some point, I hope to work strictly with people who have gambling problems. I thought I would be a special education teacher but I became fascinated with the social services aspect. I feel I can help people in a different way and engage them in conversations about recovery.
My advice to people struggling with gambling is to go and check out many meetings. You will find one that feels right, and when you do, treasure it. Stay in the present moment as long and often as you can, get humble and be teachable.
The gambling landscape continues to shift with rapid expansion and responses to regulations that seem insufficient. Those working in prevention, treatment and research need to understand and be responsive to these changes.
The MNAPG conference will feature presenters from across the country and Canada sharing their perspectives as clinicians, financial advisors, people in recovery and researchers. It will be a great way to network with others committed to minimizing the harms caused by gambling disorder and to learn more about recent trends and new tools available for those who need help.
Who Should Attend?
The conference is appropriate for many people, including:
o Gambling, alcohol and drug addiction counselors and therapists
o Other health care and social service workers
o Law enforcement officers
o School and church leaders
o Lawyers and financial professionals
o People in recovery and their families
CEU credits are available from various Minnesota professional licensing boards.
Programs and Speakers
While conference details are still falling into place as of this writing, here are some of the programs and speakers that will be part of the conference:
oResources and Tools for Financial Counseling in Gambling Disorder Treatment,presented by Cara Macksoud, CEO of Money Habitudes, and Alex De Marco, founder and CEO of MoneyStack, Inc. and GamFin.
oThe All-In Podcast Comes to Minnesota!,presented by Brian Hatch, peer recovery specialist for Bettor Choice, and Jeff Wasserman, MPA, JD, ICGC-I, CPRS, judicial outreach and development director for the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems.
oUsing Affordability Guidelines as a Tool for Player Protection Online in a North American Context, presented by Lia Nower, J.D., Ph.D., a distinguished professor and director of the Center for Gambling Studies at Rutgers University.
oWorking with Clients and Gambling Harms: Why it Matters and How to Lower Resistance to Treatment,presented by Jay Robinson, JR Consulting, an internationally sought-after expert in the field of preventing and responding to gambling harms.
oThe Public Health Impact of Sports Betting Expansion, presented by Dr. Timothy W. Fong, M.D., a Professor of Psychiatry at the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.
MNAPG annual conference
Hilton Minneapolis/Bloomington, 3900 American Blvd W., Bloomington, MN
Years in the making, NCPG has recently leased 1-800-GAMBLER as the new nationwide helpline number. With the significant increase in sports betting, it makes sense to use one number in the often-small amount of advertising space. While some states mandate that their own state helpline be included in any advertising that crosses their borders, Minnesota does not mandate the exclusive use of 1-800-333-HOPE. MNAPG agrees with this approach for sports betting. MNAPG will continue to use the Minnesota helpline number in its brochures and in-state only ads. Either way, the caller will be directed to the Minnesota vendor who handles the helpline. Until Minnesota decides to discontinue the HOPE number, MNAPG will support use of both numbers.
When you find yourself up at 2 a.m. betting on Chinese league basketball games, something you know nothing about, you have to realize that maybe you’ve got a gambling problem.
My relationship with gambling started when I was young. I remember playing cards with my uncle when I was nine or ten years old. At that time, poker was all over television, with ESPN broadcasting various poker tours. I found a website where I could play online for practice, and I spent many hours doing that.
By the time I was 14, I was staying up until four or five in the morning playing poker with my parent’s credit cards. My gambling progressed, and when I moved out on my own, I thought that maybe I could gamble all the time.
But by the time I was 18, I ended up in Gamblers Anonymous (GA). It was at a church and there were only two people there. At the time, it didn’t feel like the place for me. I had a full college scholarship for chess and figured I’d grow out of gambling. Unfortunately, I only lasted three months in college, and when I lost my scholarship, I lost some of my identity. I continued to gamble and also found substances as a way to try to keep gambling away.
There was a lot of pain and suffering between age 19 and 25. Although I visited GA again in 2013, I was very stubborn and didn’t stick with it. I got sober when I was 25 but didn’t give up gambling. By that time my income was substantially higher and my bets were larger. I also got involved in illegal activities to sustain my gambling.
In 2021, I had a substantial win and thought that would change everything. But, of course, it didn’t. I found myself sick and tired of being sick and tired. This time, my involvement with GA feels different. I’m more committed, have sponsors, chair meetings and go every week. While treatment centers may work for some (I went to the Vanguard Center for Gambling Recovery in Granite Falls as well as to a gambling treatment center in Florida), I’ve found that GA works best for me.
It’s now been eight months since I gambled. I’m very happy now. I have a great job and great friends. I’m back together with my girlfriend, who has been through a lot with me.
As someone who got into heroin at one point, I can honestly say that the high from gambling was greater than that of heroin. It is the hardest of the addictions. It’s easier to lie
to think you can win something. With drugs and alcohol, you won’t win anything, but with gambling, you can trick yourself.
To those who are struggling with gambling and wondering what to do, I would say this. Nobody accidentally finds their way into a GA meeting. If you think you’re having an issue, you more than likely do. But there’s help out there. There are a lot of different meetings and a lot of people are willing to help you. The environment is very welcoming and nonjudgmental. I realize now that the age factor — my being younger than many in GA — was simply a copout.
But I do think there’s a need for more GA meetings focused on young people, particularly now there are likely more younger people gambling because of the easy access. It can be difficult when you look around and see that most of the other meeting attendees are older. For this reason, I’ve worked to create a “young persons” GA meeting. My hope is that it will help others like myself.