My Gambling Addiction Origin Story – Part 2

So let’s recap part one of my story about gambling addiction in a single (run-on) sentance. I was 19, visited a casino in Canada a handful of times, ran up over $4,000 in credit card debt from cash advances, and was hooked on gambling. After returning back home after that last trip and desperately trying to figure out how I was going to get the debt paid off, I started contemplating ways to earn some extra money on the side. The first thing that popped in my head was hosting poker tournaments at my house. Chris Moneymaker had just won the WSOP Main Event and poker was everywhere you looked on TV at the time. I asked my friend to help me wrangle up 8-10 players for a weekly poker game. I searched the internet and found out how to host the game, as a dealer what I should do, blinds, etc. and got everything setup. It was a $50 tournament, with $40 to the pot and $10 to me, so with 10 players, I was making $100 for my time/effort, which seemed fair. The first tournament went off without a hitch and before you know it, I had a list of more than 40 people interested in participating. Before I knew it, I was a regular Molly Bloom hosting a poker game 3 nights a week, collecting “donations” for facilitating the events. This continued most of the semester and with minimal effort, my credit card debt was paid off and a steady stream of income was available.

Throughout the Spring semester, I continued hosting these events and made my way off to the casino at least three times a month to play blackjack, entertain the girlfriend, and just get away from my normal college life. In February of that year, I was playing blackjack with a dealer I had gotten to know over my trips and he asked me what I was doing for the summer. I told him that I had no clue, but likely something boring back home in Kentucky. He started to explain how the casino offered part-time positions each summer and that I should apply for an opening. This sounded like an awesome idea at the time, but it dawned on me upon arriving back home that if I worked there, I couldn’t play there. I went back and forth for a few days trying to make up my mind, but finally pulled the trigger and applied for a part-time dealer position. I was provided a set of dates that I needed to be present for in-person dealer school and spent most of my April/May weekends at the casino’s dealer academy. I learned the ins and outs of casino dealer procedures like how to shuffle, how to arrange your rack, game protection, etc. Eight weeks later, it was the first week of June, school was out, and I had my first shift as a part-time dealer. My first shift as a dealer could not have gone much worse. I had multiple chips accidently dropped off the table, skipped a player while dealing, misunderstood a player asking for a hit vs. standing. Everything you hate as a blackjack player, I had probably done as a dealer. My floor supervisor was extremely understanding, helpful in righting the situations for the players, and assisted every time she could to make sure I felt comfortable and confident. Fast forward to a few months later, you would have thought I had been dealing for years and didn’t even think about it anymore. The best part about all of this was I was in the casino environment that I craved so badly, around high-stakes action to get my blood pumping, but I wasn’t risking a penny of my own money. It honestly didn’t matter how much money I made, I was satisfied with just the experience.

This part-time job became a full-time job for me after graduating college. Although my parents weren’t too thrilled, it was something I extremely enjoyed and allowed me to pause after college and catch my breath before attacking my learned profession. It lasted about a year before I had heard the complaints enough, gave my notice and moved back home to get my real life started. That insight and knowledge I gained from this job would prove extremely valuable as I moved ahead in my “career” as a gambler. Understanding dealer tendencies, shuffle patterns, etc. would only provide additional arrows in my quiver as I progressed in my gambling career (which will be important a few years later for me). After getting back home and taking a full time position in my career field, I was able to avoid the local casinos for a while, but as free-time increased, my desire for gambling increased more and more. I didn’t have a girlfriend or wife at the time keeping me busy, so I needed something to occupy my time. At that point, I began making what would become weekly trips to my local Caesars property. It was nothing crazy at the start, $10-15 blackjack and the occasional few bills through a slot machine. I would win a couple hundred bucks one trip and lose it back the next, but I was having fun and it wasn’t killing me financially. As my job improved and my income increased, so did my minimum bet, trip frequency and losses. I would move on to $25-50 blackjack games, find myself in the high limit room a lot, and those “bad trips” started hurting a lot more than they did before. I think at this point, the average person would walk away, but for me, it didn’t matter if I won or lost. My mindset was exactly the same if I won $1,000 or lost $2,000. It was all about the thrill of playing, and the result was inconsequential to my mentality. Even worse, every time I stepped up my minimum bet for a session, I could never go back to my previous play levels. Fifteen dollar games became $25, became $50, became $100 and my income hadn’t risen nearly fast enough to satisfy my gambling desires.

It was at this time I realized I needed something to turn the tide in my favor. I went online and was able to find a copy of Ed Thorp’s book, Beat the Dealer, and started to invest any free time I had into learning the art and science of card counting. I spent hours at home counting down decks of cards, practicing deck estimations and any other tools I thought would help me in my field. After a month or two of practice, I headed out to a casino I typically never played at to give it my first try. After about three hours of play with a 1-8 bet spread, I found myself down about $1,500 and questioning if I had learned anything from my practice. I went home, continued practicing and learning and went back to the same casino about a week later. This time, everything was clicking. Every time my bet would get up on a positive count, the right cards would come and it felt like free money. After about 30 minutes, I was up $4,000 and was eventually backed off by an assistant casino manager who let me know my play was no longer welcome. I had won and boy it felt good. This feeling only intensified my desire to play more and more. I began travelling in an 8 hour radius on the weekends seeking new properties to try my skills at. You learn as an AP that you can do everything right and still lose and that became extremely apparent, but the more hours I got in at the tables, the more my bankroll grew. After about three years of this continuous play, I had reached a point where I just wasn’t enjoying it anymore. I was wasting months of my life continuing and optional activity that I had grown resentful of, but my body still desired to be in a casino as much as possible. I made a conscious decision at that point in my life that I was no longer going to “actively count” when playing so that I could do the things that I enjoyed… having conversations with dealers, tipping more, slowing things down when necessary, etc. I would still try to keep a true count when I could, but no more index plays, no more cover moves to keep the heat down… I was just playing for fun.

Fast forward past all this to this very day, and I still have a compulsion and drive that puts me in a casino at least once a week. Blackjack games now start at $200-300 for me, not because that is the level I need to play at… rather, it is the only level that makes me feel even remotely vested in the outcome of my play. It honestly stinks – going to the casino with friends and playing at a $10-15 table is beyond boring and I end up walking away quickly. Even when I try to play craps at a lower level in downtown Vegas, I can’t go more than a couple rolls before my bets creep back up to my normal levels to keep me engaged. Is it healthy? Absolutely not. I am fortunate enough to be at a good point financially in my life where I can stomach big losses if they come, but it also takes some of the fun out of it at the same time. I honestly think the best (and worst) thing that happened to me in the past couple years has been starting to play craps. It brought back a joy and passion for gambling that had long disappeared, but also has pushed me into even more sessions at the casino at higher stakes then I really should play seeking that high that can only come from high-stakes action. I probably end up gambling about 75 days a year and spend more time in Vegas then anyone should, but it could always be worse. My therapist reminds me that it could be a drug or alcohol addiction, so at least this vice can only bring myself down. But if there is a takeaway from all of this for anyone that read this far, just remember the most valuable tool you have in fighting any addiction is a good friend. Having someone to tell you to walk away, take a day off, or just find something else more productive to do for a day is invaluable. Ironically for me, Josh (@VegasDuffy) has been that guy in my recent past. He is the one that tells me just to hold off until the next Vegas trip, or maybe lower the bankroll for a day.

If anyone ever needs someone to help push them in the right direction on anything they are struggling with in life, please feel free to reach out. You’re never alone and at least someone is always there to listen. Stay safe and make smart choices!

To contact the National Problem Gambling Hotline, please call 1800-522-4700 or visit