It started so innocently. It (gambling) was fun as a teenager. Win a few dollars – lose a few dollars, who was counting. At age 20, that thinking changed. I made and won my first bet with a bookmaker for $25. At that point, I sent a message to myself: this is my way out. My way out of the south side of town, my way out of going to college and my way out of having to work hard for a dollar. I was going to be a successful gambler who was going to get all the good things in life – without having to work for them. What had started out as fun now became an obsession and a necessity. Gambling became my 24 hour, seven days a week drug. By 21, I was either on the phone placing a bet, at the race track, at the casino or at some private poker game in Reading.
While this was going on, I managed to get married and have three children by the age of 26. I don’t know how I managed to squeeze that in. I was a printer at the newspaper but that was interfering with my gambling, so I decided to quit and buy a bar. That way I could drink and gamble all day. During this time, the size of my bets started to increase. The $25 bet had now increased sometimes up to $1,000 a game. I started to put myself in dangerous predicaments. There were times when I had to leave town because of the large amounts of money I owed and people who were looking for me. My gambling was out of control and my solution to get out of debt was to do the very same thing that got me in debt was to gamble more and increase the bet. By age 30, the marriage and three children were gone.
At this time, I started to use cocaine and methamphetamines and started to hang out with major drug dealers. It was then that I had a great idea: I could become a drug dealer then I would have plenty of money to gamble with. In no time, I was selling large amounts of drugs. However, I started using the drug dealers’ money to pay the bookmakers in hopes that I was going to win to pay back the drug dealers. I was essentially robbing from ‘Peter’ to pay ‘Paul’. This wheeling and dealing went on for the next 12 years. By the age of 45, I was betting as much as $25,000 on one game and playing blackjack at the casinos for $1,000 a hand. I would have large amounts of money in the house one week and in no time I couldn’t pay the electric bill. I was on a roller coaster and didn’t know how to get off.
November 15, 1993, I was in a motel room in Atlantic City once again drug dealers and bookmakers looking for me and looking for their money. I had been in this predicament many times but this time was different in that I was exhausted and didn’t have the energy or the desire to overcome my circumstances. I wrote three suicide notes out to my children and injected myself with enough drugs to kill any three people. After three days, I woke up out of a coma in the hospital. Only by the Grace of God I am alive and have been restored and living a life of freedom from addiction. I eventually learned that I had called my doctor back in Reading and he called whomever that night, and emergency personnel got to me and saved my life. I truly believe that God dialed that phone number because I wouldn’t have known my doctor’s phone number unless I would have looked it up. When I left that hospital, I felt like something was different about me. I was taken to the Reading Hospital psych ward and after a few days taken to the Terraces, a treatment center in Ephrata. I have not made a bet, taken any drugs or had a drink since.
I was given direction not to watch any sporting events, look at the sports page in any newspaper or carry more than five dollars at any time for a period of two years. The image of being flashy and wanting attention when big wins happened had to be smashed. It took me ten years of hard work to pay back my mother, good friends and the banks and credit card companies. I had to face the bookmakers and drug dealers with honesty and tell them I couldn’t pay them, that I was done and choosing to live a different way. There were threats and some scary moments. But I stayed the course and attended GA, AA and NA meetings daily. Those meetings became my new 24 hour, seven days a week drug. My passion today is to help others who are powerless and paralyzed by gambling; this includes those who have found freedom from alcohol and drugs with many years of clean time but who are not happy, joyous and free because of gambling.
Thank you and if my story can save one person from that living hell I experienced, let it be so. God Bless.