According to Robert L. Custer, M.D. of the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery at Proctor Hospital, there
are six types of gamblers. There is the Professional Gambler, the Antisocial or Personality Gambler, the Casual Social Gambler, the Serious Social Gambler, the Relief and Escape Gambler and the Compulsive Gambler. In 1990, the Adult Survey of Gambling Behavior, A Benchmark Study: Laundergan, Schaefer, Eckhoff estimated that 63% of all U.S. adults had gambled at least once during the previous 1months and that of those 63%, 7% were CompulsiveGamblers.
My brother Ronnie, was one of that elite group. Speaking as a family member of an addict, I can tell you that the effects of compulsive gambling are often devastating and, at times, even, life threatening.
As far back as I could remember, my brother had three boyhood hobbies which occupied most of his spare time; putting together model cars, building match stem fortresses for little green solders and playing cards. All of these seemed to be harmless past-times to everybody I knew except Grandma Small.
When I was eight years old I spent two weeks at Grandma’s house while Grandpa was in the hospital. One night I was kind of bored and I asked Grandma if she had any cards. She scowled at me and said, “ Child, don’t you know it’s a sin to play cards? Why, cards can be the ruination of a person”. No I didn’t know it was a sin to play cards and I couldn’t imagine how it could possibly ruin anybody, after all, it was only a game. Why, my family and I had spent many enjoyable hours playing gin rummy or flapjack, which is the way we pronounced it, with no ill effects at all, that I could notice. I suppose she was afraid I was already on the road to destruction because she made me watch the whole Billy Grahm crusade, which was on TV that week. What a long week that turned out to be.
After I went back home, I tried to put Grandma’s words out of my mind. Eventually I did forget what she said, but ten years ago her words came hauntingly back to me. I got a call from my sister late one night. She asked me if I had heard the news and I said, “What news?” She said, “You didn’t know that Jane had taken Connie and left Ronnie?” I was shocked. They had been married for twenty years. Jane had been my sister since I was ten years old and it had taken them thirteen years to give me a beautiful baby niece. How could they separate after being together so long, seemingly so perfect for each other?
The reason was gambling. Ronnie had learned how to play Poker before he finished high school. He used to play with my other brother Danny, our Dad and a few of his buddies for nickels and dimes. Eventually he started playing video poker and some where along the way he went from being a Casual Social Gambler to being a Compulsive Gambler.
The effects have been devastating, not only for him, but also, for the whole family. First of all his wife lost her husband and her little girl lost her daddy. Jane did stay for a long time after he had borrowed thousands of dollars and ruined their credit, and after he had sold most of their belongings. She finally left after someone came by and started shooting at their house. She didn’t know for sure who it was but knew it must have been someone who he owed money to. She still loved him but could not leave herself and their little girl in harms way. Connie had been a daddy’s little girl, now she had no daddy at all.
The one thing that Ronnie had not yet sold was a great big rusty colored pick-up truck he’d had for about ten years. He had taken real good care of it and it looked brand new. … He continued to gamble.
After the separation, he realized he could not afford his house payments and let the bank foreclose on it. He moved into a trailer that my sister owned and stayed there for a few years for free. … He continued to gamble.
He began taking excessive amounts of prescription medication. One day after almost over dosing on alcohol and drugs he drove his truck into a tree in my sisters yard and went into her house and, with his bare hands, turned her washing machine over onto the floor. He spent two weeks in the hospital sobering up. After he got out he fixed his truck. It looked new again … He continued to gamble.
After awhile his nerves became so frayed that he lost it on the job one day and smashed a buzzer with his hammer. He was one of the highest paid maintenance men at his plant. He had kept this job for twenty-three years and in one swift moment it was gone. … He continued to gamble.
He then pulled out his profit sharing, which was approximately $35,000. After spending about $1,000 on new clothes he bought a plane ticket and flew to Vegas. He lost almost all of it. He had just enough to get back home. He knocked around for awhile doing odd jobs. Finally he packed a few things in a bag, went over to a friend’s house, sold him his truck for $3,500 and disappeared. We searched everywhere for him, but to no avail. We simply had no ideal where he had gone. After two weeks he showed up on my doorsteps looking at least fifteen years older than his forty-four years. His normally cropped gray hair was grown over his collar, his beard was about six inches long and his clothes were rumpled and dirty. He looked like a filthy Santa reject. He was coughing badly. He already had emphysema from years of smoking and while he was gone he had developed bronchitis. He had become so sick that he had passed out on the side of the street. He was taken to a nearby hospital and was treated for several days as a homeless person. He had hitched hiked all the way to Vegas and back again.
My husband and I took him in for seven months in hopes that we might be able to help him. We helped him get a job, took him to church, and enrolled him in gamblers anominous. He finally moved out into a trailer park, and fixed up an old beat up car, and went back to school part time.
He eventually lost this job too, had to give up his trailer and quit school. He disappeared again for a few weeks. This time he turned up at my uncles’ house. My uncle got him an old second hand trailer and helped him get a new job. He seemed to be doing fine until two weeks ago when my brother-in-law saw his car outside a game room. He went in and Ronnie was sitting at a poker machine with a stack of quarters by one hand and a cigarette in the other.
As I think of Grandma’s words, spoken thirty years ago, I wonder if she wasn’t right after all. For some, gambling can become a sin. For my brother Ronnie, it became the ruination of his life.