My mother was always wary of gambling. As far as I knew, my father never gambled much. He liked blackjack but he could always enter a casino with a set amount of money that he would allow himself to lose and be able to walk out before he went over his limit. That number he had in his mind was never more than $200 and he didn’t gamble often. Besides, my mother hated when he gambled, it reminded her of her childhood and of her deadbeat father who gambled everything on mahjong. I wasn’t around gambling much as a child.
So when my husband lost $500 on a poker game, I didn’t think much of it. It was his hobby, something that helped him relax. Little did I know that I was inadvertently enabling him.
My Husband, we’ll call him K, is a good poker player. He gained interest in it from his Uncle who had run some illegal poker rings in the city and did some time for it. He started playing with his friends and when his friends stopped playing with him because he was taking all their money, he moved on to the casinos.
And he had a lot of beginners luck. He made $10K and paid off his student loans with that. He was a good player and he swore that it was a game of skill so, to me, I never saw it as a gambling problem.
But that how gambling problems start…
K would ask if he could take a trip to the city underground clubs or the casino when I went away and visited my parents for the weekend. I didn’t mind because he was asking me and he was still winning occasionally; it was a shared financial decision. If he lost, he lost. If he won, then even better. The truth is, I was also gambling. I was gambling on him to win.
And we did this for years, even though my job would fluctuate in income because I worked on commission and we still had debt to pay off and a small child to take care of. I knew we were being financially irresponsible so I started to make a tight budget to get things under control and I started looking in depth at our bank statements.
“K why did you take out $300 from our checking on this date and why did you take out another $300 two weeks before? What are you doing with this money?” My voice was soft and nervous about the answer. I mean we needed that money, it was winter and the slow season for commissions.
“Oh I owed my dad some money and I used the other $300 for a little spending here and there.”
“I didn’t know you owed your dad money… Please just let me know beforehand because I wasn’t expecting this expense.” $300 for money here and there seemed like a lot but I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
A few months passed from that incident and I didn’t think much of it until I saw another large debit from our checking only a month later. This time $400!
“K, what are you spending this money on! You spent nearly 1/2 of this commission that I made. I wanted to buy X, Y and Z and now I can’t because we can’t afford it.”
He lowered his head in shame and spilled it. He had been gambling behind my back for the past couple of
months. Instead of seeing a movie, he was going to the club in the city. Instead of taking a trip with me to see my parents, he stayed behind to “clean the apartment,” but was really taking a trip to the local casino to play poker.”
“But if you could only see the hand I lost on! Statistically I should have won any other time. He just caught a lucky card on the river!”
I could feel my blood start to simmer with rage. He had spent over $1000 behind my back over these three months. Here we were, we agreed to get our debt down and cut down spending and he was just dropping money down the drain at the casino. I was the only one sacrificing by cutting down my trips to Starbucks and holding off on buying new work clothes. And worst of all he was lying to me about it.
I never felt more resentful.
And that was our cycle for the next couple of years. Months would pass by with us saving and then a charge would pop up mysteriously for $200, $300 or $500. It was always just what we could afford to lose but it kept us from saving. On days I found out of his secret gambling, we’d fight viciously. Then he’d promise never to do it again or try to rationalize a reason why he would win next time. Then he would stop going to play poker for a few months until he got the itch and this cycle would start again.
It was toxic.
Still, K was a smooth talker and managed to talk me into a trip to Las Vegas one year.
“It’ll be fun, we won’t even gamble that much. We can do shows, go to clubs and walk the strip.” He knew I liked clubbing.
“Ok, but we should just go with a set amount of money to gamble with and leave our debit cards at home.”
“I don’t want to be stranded without our debit cards in case of an emergency,” he said, “we’ll be responsible” he assured me.
We spent $2500 on gambling during our 4 day trip to Las Vegas.
This time I was out of control too and got sucked into blackjack and slots.
I was so angry at both of us, it ruined our trip. I never wanted either of us to gamble again. Everything good about our trip was overshadowed by our ridiculous spending.
Later that year, his gambling got worst. He discovered online poker and dumped $20-100 a week into that and hid his trips to the casino where he was losing $200-500 per visit. Every time I would go through our statements, it was in fear of what I might find. I was tired of fighting and of feeling like I was getting nowhere. I kept trying to make up his losses by working harder but it was still money being lost. The fights were terrible. I’d scream at him and call him a loser. We were starting to fight in front of our daughter to the point where she would try to break up the fight or start crying.
One day K suggests that he can do the budgeting. “It stressed you out too much and I can see where the money is going and can help out.”
At this point he had swore he would never gamble again and had gone 6 months without an incident. I really wanted to believe he was under control. So I let him do the accounting for two months.
It wasn’t long before I realized he wasn’t doing it; I got an email saying we missed a credit card payment.
I think I knew what I would find, but I really didn’t want to find it or even believe it. But there it was, back before he offered to handle the budgeting was a $1500 debit on our checking account. This would be the most he has ever lost in a single day. He was taking his gambling up another level. And his whole reason for wanting to take up the budgeting was to hide his gambling again.
“What’s this charge for $1500?” I asked my husband as he walked in from a grocery run. I already knew the answer.
His composure just slumped in on itself and he lowered his head in shame. My head was spinning. I could barely hear him as went through his usual excuses…”I didn’t mean to spend that much,” I was playing so well, but it was just one hand that went south and ruined it for me,” “You don’t even know how much this makes me feel like shit,” “I’m such a loser.”
He was good at gaining sympathy. But this time it was so clear to me. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t see it before. Maybe I didn’t want to believe it.
K was sick. He had a gambling addiction and, through my own denial, I enabled him.
$1500 dollars. That was 1 months rent, that was a commission that I was lucky to get if a client closed after 2 weeks of work, that was 4 months of groceries or a year of gas. This time I wasn’t going to let it go. I closed my eyes and saw myself at 40 years old with a deadbeat husband who had spent $100K in gambling during their marriage. I envisioned myself as a 40 year old preparing for divorce.
I wasn’t going to hide the problem and pretend it was just between us. I wasn’t going to make up the money. I wasn’t going to make him promise to pay it back. (Which he never did).
So I called his mother.
And I told her everything, that this was the end of the road. That I couldn’t be married to a gambler and he had lost $15K during the course of our marriage so far. He needed help. He needed to go to Gamblers Anonymous (GA) and see a therapist.
I was angry for a long time. I made him sleep on the couch for two months. I cried randomly by myself. I wouldn’t talk to him or look at him. I couldn’t trust him.
His parents had an intervention and expressed their disappointment and concern. They didn’t want to see our family fall apart.
After that, he made a commitment to go to GA meetings. I took away his debit card and put him on a cash only system. He had to provide receipts for everything he bought. I made him change his number because the casinos and poker clubs would text him “buy in deals” to tempt him. I cancelled anything that reminded him of poker. And he agreed.
It’s been a year and he hasn’t gambled. Today he called me and told me he went to a GA meeting for support. He felt tempted because he had some spare cash from his birthday he felt he could spend. But instead he went to the meeting. I’m proud he’s able to still admit his weaknesses and work to correct them.
I feel lucky most days, so far he’s overcome this demon that haunted our lives for so many years. I can’t deny the role I played in enabling him either. I know it could have gotten worst and that there are some women who learn too late that they’re losing everything to gambling.
If you know someone afflicted with gambling addiction please don’t be afraid to confront them or intervene. The contact for the National Gambling Helpline is:
Sending my thoughts to the men, women and families dealing with this mental illness and obsession.
Even though my husband has been gamble free for a year, I can’t forget that he’s capable of it. And I have to forgive him for the money he’s lost. For my sake and his, all I can do it support and love him through his gamble free journey.