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Bottoming Out: Gambling Addiction in Las Vegas

Reader and Gambler Comments

Arnie's Story

Gamblers Answer Questions

Anonymous gamblers seeking treatment at the Problem Gambling Center answered questions from The Las Vegas Sun. Here are some of their responses.

  • Do you believe skill is involved in slot machines?
  • "No, I used to think it was all luck or changing to another machine. I tried occasionally to think up a strategy but couldn't come up with any logical conclusions regarding that. The praying strategy is not a valid approach, either."
  • "No skill. I always picked the same numbers in keno."
  • "In the beginning I thought that skill was involved but I know that it is a random thing."
  • "I used to believe that if I played really slow for approximately 15 minutes and then played really fast the machine would hit."
  • "Playing the slot machine without the (players) card because the casino was monitoring it."
  • "My strategy was to play the machines slow and re-bet different amounts every throw."
  • "Yes, I felt that if I put enough money in the machine it would eventually hit a jackpot."
  • Has anyone won a jackpot on a machine right after you left it?
  • "No, but I have won as someone was leaving and the person claimed he had set it up for me so I owed him half of the win. I said no and he stomped off, cursing me."
  • "No, but I have heard about that. It makes you never want to leave the machine."
  • "Yes. I felt pissed off and would wonder why it could not have been me instead of them. I would feel selfish, mad and very upset."
  • "Yes. A feeling of defeat. Feeling cheated."
  • Do you believe that you can beat a slot machine if you play long enough?
  • "Any time I have ever thought that way, I have stayed too long at the same machine and been too stubborn to leave; and, by the time I did leave, I was plenty, plenty broke."
  • "I do not believe you can beat a slot machine based upon how long you stay. Hours upon hours of play does not guarantee anything — there are no guarantees in gambling."
  • "Yes, if you have enough money. I play Wheel of Fortune at times and eventually it started paying off."
  • "I thought the more the machine was played, the more likely it would win."
  • "If you put enough money into one, it had to pay off."
  • "I always felt that if I played long enough I would win a big bonus."
  • "No, but that did not stop me from playing on a losing machine and putting in hundreds of dollars. Even when I knew the machine would not pay off."
  • Can slot machines run hot and cold?
  • "Yes. But hot never means it stays hot, and cold never means it stays cold (but usually it does stay cold)."
  • "When the money would go fast, I would say it was cold. But when they would win a lot they would be on fire."
  • "Yes. Hot is when you keep winning and credits go up. Cold you keep feeding money and hope for a big jackpot."
  • "Yes! I believe they are set by the slot companies. I believe they will loosen for a short period (maybe a week), then shut them down for two months or more."
  • "If I wouldn't hit for the first $40 I put in, I would say it's cold."
  • "Some machines I have played, they would run hot and cold. Usually, after a machine would run hot, I would bet small, until I thought it was ready to pay off again."
  • "I never felt that way, I felt they were random."
  • Do you believe there are loose slots?
  • "Rumor has it that end-of-a-row machines are looser to catch the attention of passers-by but that has not matched my experience."
  • "I had machines I fed and won on and I always played the same machines believing they were lucky not loose."
  • "Some machines are programmed to payout more than others. To find them you just have to play them and see what happens. I always returned to machines on which I had won in the past."
  • "Yes. When others are winning and they have to leave, I go and play their machine."
  • "No, but I do believe it is all about being in the right time at the right place. If the machine is ready to hit and you're there, you'll be the one to win."
  • "Yes I believe there are loose slots when people are done gambling on a machine and didn't win anything. Early in the morning I feel they're looser."
  • "The casinos tell you that there are 99 percent payback, but I think not because it's a random thing."
  • "When I was gambling, I felt I could find these loose slots. I did believe slot machines were set differently, and some would payoff more than others."
  • Have you ever won a large jackpot?
  • "All the time. I always play the machines until I would hit that one big one. I would then spend it back in (the machine) always chasing."
  • "Yes, once playing Megabucks linking up three Megabucks symbols a quarter of an inch above the payline. I was excited but extremely disappointed I didn't win it."
  • "When I almost hit a jackpot that is what made me play even more. I felt I would win eventually."
  • "Yes. It was great at the time. I would put it all back in the machine to have that feeling again. It was never enough."
  • Do you believe slot machines are random?
  • "I used to think they ran in cycles. My beliefs would be, if they had a high jackpot payoff or if they had not been hit, they were due, or if I saw someone put a lot of money in one, I felt it was due to hit."
  • "Yes. But I felt if I played long enough I would win. I always played the same machine until the money ran out."
  • "I think they are random and it's a matter of being in the right place at the right time."
  • "I believe a slot machine is random. It might never hit a jackpot."
  • "I believe they are random but know from experience no matter how long you play or how much money put in does not determine a win."
  • "I believe the longer you play or feed a machine it will hit."
  • "I believe slot machines are random. Some machines continue to pay, others never pay no matter how long you sit there."
  • "I always believed that they ran on a cycle. If I was losing, I would keep playing until the cycle ran its course."
  • Has anyone won a jackpot on a machine right after you left it?
  • "Yes. I have left broke and saw someone else win. That led me to borrowing to gamble."
  • "It made me feel sick to my stomach."
  • "I would watch this happen over and over so I stopped moving. That way no one would win my money."

I am a recovering compulsive gambler who placed my last bet April 10, 1968.

I started gambling at about age 7 or 8 as a kid in Brooklyn, NY. It started with flipping baseball cards, pitching pennies, shooting marbles and playing pinball machines. That kind of gambling continued until about age 14. At that point I started to bet on sporting events with a bookmaker and I got into the stock market.

As a young kid, growing up, I always felt that everyone was better than me. The only time I felt okay about myself was after I had a win, whether it was marbles or baseball cards or pennies. Then at 14 I went to the racetrack for the first time (that was Memorial Day, 1951 Roosevelt Raceway). At that time in my life I was making $.50 an hour after school, working about 15-20 hours a week. That night at Roosevelt Raceway I had my first big win and walked out of the track with $54.

Looking back today, I think it was that night that changed my life. Even though it was only $54, it was about five weeks' salary to me at that time. That night gave me the belief that I could be a winner from gambling and eventually become a millionaire. I can still recall that high feeling walking out of the racetrack that night.

By 17, I was already stealing to support my gambling. It started with stealing comic books to play cards with from the local candy store. Before long it was stealing money from my family to pay for gambling. By then I was taking the bus to the racetrack, a few nights a week on a regular basis. In those days they closed the track in the winter months in New York so, on weekends, I would take the bus or the train to Maryland to gamble. I was betting sporting events and horses with the bookmaker on a daily basis. In those days each sport had its own season. I remember calling the bookmaker one day and the only thing that was available to gamble on was hockey. I had never seen a hockey game, but bet on it anyway. It wasn't until months later, when I did see my first hockey game, that I realized that hockey was played on ice.

Somewhere between age 17 and 20 I went to the racetrack one night and won $6,000. Wow! Another big win. It was the equivalent of two years' salary. This reinforced my belief that I could be a winner at gambling.

By my early 20's I was betting big amounts on lots of games that I didn't really know much about and probably couldn't name more than a handful of players who played in these events. In some of the college games I bet on, I couldn't name one player or even tell you where the college was located, but I needed to be in action. By then I was a regular at the old Madison Square Garden every week. I was watching and betting on college and professional basketball on a regular basis. At this point in my life I was working full-time in a shipping department in the garment center, and every Tuesday when we got paid there was a regular craps game out in the hallway. Almost every week I would lose my pay in this game. I began stealing supplies and merchandise on a daily basis to pay for my gambling. By then, I had a bank loan and a loan with a finance company loan. I was also borrowing from coworkers.

At 21 I met my future wife. Our first date was to the movies and most of the rest of our dating was at the racetrack. We had a joint checking account saving for our wedding. She would put money in and I wouldn't. I needed to use my money for gambling. I was still looking for another big win. I thought the perfect place for our honeymoon would be Las Vegas or Puerto Rico since I knew both places had casinos. My wife to be didn't think that was a good idea. I guess she understood enough about my gambling already. At 23 we got married and I wanted to stop gambling at that point. I thought that I could. Within a short time I was already back to gambling. Even though I wanted to stop, I realize today that I couldn't. I needed to gamble like any drug addict needed to stick that needle in their arm, or any alcoholic needed to have that drink.

Four weeks after we got married I went away to the Army Reserves at Fort Dix, NJ for six months. During those six months, I gambled every day, fast and furious, from placing bets by phone with the bookmaker to shooting crap and playing cards, every waking minute. When I came home in December of 1961, I owed $4,000 and didn't even have a job.

I got a job, eventually, working in the garment center. In the showroom that I worked in there were a few compulsive gamblers who I quickly got friendly with. They became my buddies. We would play cards during the day, and go to the racetrack at night and on weekends, together. My wife thought I was at business meetings some of these nights and all of us would lie for each other.

In 1963 my first daughter was born. My wife was in labor 37 hours. During that period I went to the racetrack twice. When the doctor finally came out and told me that we had a baby, the only question I really was concerned about was "how much did she weigh". He told me 7 pounds, 1 ounce. You would think that the concern should have been "How is my wife?" or "How is the baby?" The first call I made was to the bookmaker. I bet 71 in the daily double. The next day when I picked up the newspaper, the daily double hit. I was convinced that day that God was sending me a message that I was now going to be a winner.

One year later my boss gave me an option to buy 500 shares of stock in the company for $7,500. Within a year that stock was worth $38,000. In those days you could buy a car for $2,000 and a house for about $10,000. Within three years this money would be gone due to my gambling. By now I was a plant supervisor for a Fortune 500 company. My gambling was already so out of control that I was stealing everything I could to stay in action. I set up a room in the factory that we used for playing cards (all day long). I was starting to do illegal acts (manipulating stocks) in the stock market.

Our home life was deteriorating. Gambling was more important than anything else that was going on at home. I was lying about almost everything, and I would come home and pick a fight so I could go out to gamble. Nothing else at that point in my life was more important than gambling; not my family or my job. Gambling came first. At this point even though I was doing illegal acts, I was still borrowing money from only legal sources.

My gambling continued to get progressively worse. I was now a plant manager, supervising 300 to 400 people. My boss worked in New York, and I was in the factory in NJ. Most of the time he didn't know what I was doing. Besides stealing and borrowing money from coworkers, I now had three bank loans and three loans to finance companies; I owed a loan shark an amount of money equal to one year's salary. I was involved with three bookmakers, both working for them and betting with them. I directed a lot of people who gambled in my company to my bookmaker and got a piece of the action. I even got involved in a numbers operation. Between this and stealing, I was supporting my gambling. There were times I would bet 40 or 50 games on a weekend, and believe I could win them all. One weekend, just before I hit my bottom, I called a bookmaker and took a shot by betting a round robin which amounted to about two years' annual salary. At that moment if I lost that bet, there was no way I could pay it. Things were getting so bad, I remember calling a bookmaker one day and being told that if I didn't bring him the money I owed him he would not take my bet for that night. I went home and sold our car to a neighbor.

By now, I wasn't going home to pick a fight with my wife. I was doing it over the phone so I wouldn't waste the trip home. Most of the time I was out gambling, but when I was home we were constantly fighting. We had sex very rarely. When I won I was so high I didn't need it, and if I lost I didn't want it. But there were times we had sex and my wife would say to me "Do you hear a radio?" Of course I would tell her she was crazy, but I had a radio on under the pillow so I could listen to a game. We were trying to have another child, but couldn't. My wife came to me with the idea of adoption. I didn't like that idea especially when I was told it would cost money. I needed that money for gambling. After three months of her bothering me, I finally went along with the idea of adoption, as I thought she would be so busy with the two kids that she would leave me alone. I borrowed the money we needed from my boss and relatives. On the day we were bringing our son home on a plane, it was the seventh game of the 1967 World Series. My wife was busy looking at this beautiful new baby. I had no interest in him. I had a large bet on the game. The pilot was announcing the score every 15 minutes, or so. I was so upset that we were on this plane. I wished and prayed that the plane would get to the ground so that I could see or hear every minute of this game.

In the next few months the bottom fell out of my world even though I still had my job and still looked okay. There were no track marks on my arm. I wasn't smelling from my gambling. No one could really tell what was going on. I would come home from gambling and see my wife crying all the time, depressed, sick. Our daughter was four years old and I don't remember her walking or talking. I either wasn't home or when I was my head was consumed with the gambling. At that point in my life, I owed 32 people, three years' annual salary. I had a life insurance policy and constantly thought about killing myself and leaving my wife and two kids that money. I would do anything to keep gambling. As long as I could get my hands on some more money to stay in action, I still thought that the big win was just around the corner. I was trying to find out where I could get drugs to sell and looking around at gas stations to rob. I was asking people about making counterfeit money. I was running out of options.

My boss came to me one day and told me that a detective was following me and he had a report on my gambling. He knew I was betting more money than I earned and he was sure that I was stealing from the company and that if he found out he would have me arrested. Three hours later I was stealing from the company again. I needed to go to the racetrack that night. On February 2, 1968 my wife was having a miscarriage and I was taking her to the hospital. I was wishing and praying all the way that she would die. I thought that would solve all my problems (I wouldn't have to tell her how bad things were). That morning I called my mother to watch my kids, I called my boss and told him I couldn't come to work because my wife was in the hospital. That afternoon I went to the racetrack. After the track I went to see how my wife was. When I got to the hospital the doctor told me that my wife was in shock and had almost died. I was so deep into my addiction that I really didn't care about her, the two kids or myself. The only important thing was making a bet.

I thought that I was the only one living the way I was living and doing the things that I was doing. I found out that I was not alone and that I could stop gambling with the help of the other people. I had hope for the first time. It's been over 40 years since I last gambled. Today I have everything I dreamed about getting from gambling and then some. I have a wonderful family that is still intact and even have been blessed with four grandchildren who I love very much. In the last 30 years I have been able to devote my working life to helping others who have this problem and educating people on the disease of compulsive gambling. This has been a dream come true.

Environprotector's Story

I am a compulsive gambler PERIOD! Since 1994 I probably have wagered at least one hundred thousand dollars in various casinos across the southwest. Am I ashamed of this? well.. yes and no. The yes part is that my actions cost me much in my advancement forward in the world of marriage, home ownership, and never really having a life savings to speak of.

As far as the lost marriage, that one doesn't really bother me so much because she was an enabler and got what she wanted out of the life of comps in fancy hotel rooms, meals, shows, and trips with winnings to the Super Pawn to buy expensive diamond rings and necklaces, etc. I can say that some of the most exciting and glamorous times of my life were in this period.

Now look at the guy who didn't go down that path. He is married with two or more kids, lives in a nice home, works his job (if he was lucky enough to keep it with the recent recession) and has a significant savings account, and/or 401K. My question is how happy is he?

I have always felt that through my thirties and forties I wanted to go for the gusto in life with youth on my side, which is exactly what I did. It cost me one hundred thousand dollars. But I lived the life! I have memories of winning huge jackpots and taking trips to Hawaii, buying musical equipment, vacationing at luxurious hotels much of them comped, hours spent with beautiful girls, hot tubs, gourmet dining, buying nice cars, all of this mind you being drug and alcohol free for the most part. My drug was gambling.

No one can really understand the thrill of a huge fifty thousand dollar win on the five dollar slots, or the three other times I won twenty thousand dollar jackpots on the ten dollar Red White & Blue Slot machines. And of course all of the five thousand and ten thousand dollar wins in between. Hours spent playing, and mastering the game of craps.

Metting some of the most interesting and comical characters in the world! Yes there were heartbreaking losses as well, even one time where I had to go to Robinson's May to purchase a small diamond ring with my Robinson's card, only to slip over to a pawn shop on the strip to get barely half of what I had just paid for it in cash to go to the Tropicana and win five hundred dollars on the five dollar Red White & Blue machine!.

I learned the hard way that you can never in the long run come out ahead with gambling . I managed to work consistently over the years to fuel my addiction. I am of the view that my preference was to spend my hard earned dollars in this world. Do I regret not ever owing a home, or the loss of my marriage? not really. Now days I gamble cautiously and only occasionally to get my "fix" from time to time.

I have some of the best memories that no slot machine can take away from me. I prefer to remember the good memories, and not the bad, which is my perogative, but I warn anyone who thinks they can beat the game consistently, forget it.

Amnbrat14's Story

I love it when people have the courage to tell their stories so as to allow someone who is similarly in pain can have a bit of hope. Although I am not in GA I do belong to a 12 step program. I began with hostility and learned through the steps and the book how to live my life a different way.

I didn't have to fall prey to mumbo jumbo or differences of opinions or interpretations. I sought the answers for myself out of the texts and applied them to my life. I have not only recovered from my addiction I have a way of life that holds me and my actions accountable to myself not to the group.

I have a good life today after having lost absolutely everything and I would not have an inner self that does not want to harm others today if not for the twelve steps. Best wishes to those in recovery every day is a precious gift, for those seeking recovery I hope you find the help you need whatever method you choose that works for you, and for those who are so angry and bitter I hope you find some peace as I know from first hand experience that you are lashing out from your own pain.

Baboo3030's Story

In recovery here... Loving life and myself for the first time ever.. Not an easy road to walk but one that has a light at the end of it's tunnel. My grandpa always said to me when I was younger as he would take me fishing waiting hours on end for a bite.. It's called fishing not catching.. Think about it it's called gambling not winning..

I stopped at nothing to chase the bet.. Clean for almost 2 1/2 years now and still struggle but have support thru family, friends, co-workers, ga members.. Living day one step at a time. Good luck Tony.. Enjoyed your story. Hit home.. Makes me thankful I'm not chasing the bet anymore.