Confession #5

I know that I could have a gambling problem.

The only reason I don’t have a big problem is that I’m aware of the danger of this aspect of my personality.

My senior year of college, a few friends and I went to the casinos a few times (casinos are allowed in St. Louis if they’re surrounded by water). We went to play blackjack. We memorized the optimal way to play and didn’t let emotions or gut feelings get in the way.

Of the five or so times that we went, I think I broke even a few times, lost a few times, and won big once. The thrill of watching the cards be dealt was unparalleled. Betting was okay and making decisions was okay, but watching those cards get dealt…man that was awesome.

Other than that, actually, it was quite stressful. I didn’t have a lot of spending money, so I played at $5 tables. At least if I lost there, I’d lose slowly.

I knew I had a bit of a problem when I went to Atlantic City with a friend from home (Virginia). I went intending to spend no more than $150. I played for about an hour, going up and down, and I eventually lost. But I had an ATM card, and there was an ATM. I just wanted to keep playing. So I withdrew another $100 and lost it too. I went home feeling horrible. What had I gained? And even if I had won, what had I gained?

That didn’t stop me from joining my senior class in college during senior week when we went to the casino. There was a $10 limit at the tables that night. I decided to play a few hands and keep increasing my bet so I “couldn’t lose” (yes, that’s the language of a bad gambler). So I bet $10, lost it, doubled my bet to $20, lost it, and then bet $25.

It’s SO easy to spend money at the casino. $25 is a lot of spending money (that’s two rolls and a few nigiri from Wasabi!), but when that’s a few chips, it seems like nothing.

So I bet $30, and lost it. Then $35. Then $40. Lost it.

In blackjack, you keep thinking that you can’t lose every hand. But you can, especially when your money is limited. $160 was all I had. I lost 6 consecutive hands and lost all my money.

That wasn’t fun. There was no thrill. Just the sinking feeling that I was losing a lot of money. The whole ordeal lasted about 5 minutes.

On that day, I decided that I couldn’t go to the casinos to gamble anymore. For a person like me who has extremely high levels of self control in other areas, I simply don’t have that control at the casino.

I solidified that point a year and a half ago when a bachelor party took me to a casino. I hadn’t played blackjack in 5 years, so I thought it might be fun to try again. I withdrew $100, converted it to chips the size of quarters, and lost it rather quickly. So I withdrew another $150, played better this time–in fact, so much better that I covered my original loses. But in that moment when you’re doing well, you think you can keep doing well. So I kept going. And I lost the entire $250.

As I said, I know I could have a gambling problem. It could be much, much worse. But losing $250 is a problem in itself.

I even think that casino gambling is the one place where “enablers” actually have an impact on me. Enablers of other things–cigarettes, drugs, things like that–they have no impact. I know those things are bad and I don’t do them. But with casino gambling, a friends saying, “Come on, dude, it’s not like we do this every day,” makes me start to think, “Hey, he’s right.” And before you know it, I’ve lost $250 and I feel terrible.

At least I know about this aspect of my personality. The solution is quite simple: Don’t go to casinos. And if I do, I simply can’t gamble. I can’t. Not even a few dollars. Because I know what it will lead to.

It’s the same with internet poker (0r blackjack). I know that it would be so extremely addicting for me that I simply can never play. Not a hand. Not once.

I actually found a good gambling “fix” many years ago. After college, I started hosting a friendly, social poker game. I’ve hosted this game almost every week for the last 6 years. The key is that the intention behind the game is to hang out with my friends, have a good time, and use our minds a little along the way. We buy in for $10 each, so the stakes aren’t high–there’s a cap to how much you can lose. No one’s ever cheated or gotten really mad. It’s just a friendly, social game, and for the most part it all evens out. You lose a bunch of times and then win a few times and it’s pretty much even.

I’m fortunate that I’m well aware of my potential gambling issue. It’s something I’ll have to keep tabs on over the years. And going to casinos is something my friends enjoy doing on occasion, so I will have to say no to certain social outings. I’m even going to Vegas for the first time in March, and I’m not really sure what I’ll do to prevent myself from gambling. Any suggestions are welcome.

Do you have knowledge of any similar issues/addictions in your life that you steer clear of? How do you manage similar weaknesses?

See my previous confession about why you shouldn’t pull me up on stage here.