All Bets Are Off

I thought I was invincible — that I was unstoppable and would continue to win bets, but meanwhile my life was spiralling into chaos.

I’ve always loved sports. In high school I played football, baseball, basketball, and ran track. Later I went on to play semi-pro baseball. This met my need for excitement and risk. I had a lot of natural ability and did pretty well. But I never practiced, so it wasn’t long before others with more dedication and self-discipline exceeded me in skill. When I couldn’t keep up, sports became something I just watched, which left a void in my life that gambling later filled.

Being a high-powered salesman from a young age, I was convinced I could do a lot of things. And for good reason; everything was turning to gold for me. As a newly married man in 1961, I was already making really good money.

That’s when I was introduced to people who loved to talk sports. I fit right in with my extensive knowledge of football and baseball stats. They stroked my ego, telling me how good I was at predicting outcomes and that I could capitalize on it to make money.

I easily bought in to what they were saying and started placing bets. Just $50 or 100 at first. There was a thrill in it and I had a knack for it. Soon I was betting up to $1,000 on a game, and sometimes on horse races as well. Eventually, it was $2,000 or even $5,000 at a time. If I didn’t have the money, I would still bet, believing that I could turn things around quickly.

When I owed money, I would borrow from my mother-in-law to pay it back: $5,000 or more on several occasions. I didn’t even feel guilty about it. I was so entirely convinced of my ability to win. And with my high-paying job, I always paid her back, which further reinforced my confidence. I was an unrelenting optimist. Especially about my gambling.

Thirteen years after I started gambling, I said to myself, “I’m going to beat this!” I moved my family to a small town in another state to get away from the gambling scene. But changing my address didn’t change me. I gravitated toward a similar crowd of people there. My addiction got worse. This went on for four more years.

I was an unrelenting optimist. Especially about my gambling.

As a person who could sell, I had the ability to manipulate others into doing what I wanted. It turned out I was also great at persuading myself that something was right when it wasn’t.

I began to compromise in ways I thought I never would. One time, when I was short money, I cashed a customer’s check and took the money for myself, totally sure I could find a way to replace it before my boss took notice. But he did and fired me. I could have ended up in jail, but after I paid him back, he didn’t show up in court to testify.

I always had a strong desire to take good care of my family, but my addiction was stronger. My life continued to spin out of control and damage my family. I lost two homes and nearly lost my marriage because of my addiction.

When I realized I could lose my wife too, it was a huge wake-up call.

But through all of this my family still loved me. They never nagged me, which would have backfired, but sometimes they told me the hard truth. I will never forget what one family member said: “It’s Sandy’s world and we’re just in it.”

And it was true. I was self-centered, aggressive, competitive, pushy, and optimistic to a fault — a compulsive gambler who didn’t have any boundaries and didn’t care about others. Somehow my wife never left me, but she did fall into a deep depression. Some days she would just stay in bed and not even get up to feed the kids. We were really only married in name. The connection between us was gone. We didn’t hang out together outside of the house. When I realized I could lose my wife too, it was a huge wake-up call. Eventually I said to myself, “I’m done. I don’t want gambling in my life anymore.”

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Photo Credit: Charles Dyer