I made $52,000 in 1994 and never bought a pair of shoes that whole year

 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, "Gambling: A tribe hits the jackpot."

"Tiffany" - she asked us not to use her real name - is a 48-year-old real estate agent from Phoenix. She gambled uncontrollably for two and half years and nearly ruined her marriage before controlling her compulsion. Now, she attends two or three Gambler's Anonymous meetings a week, sees a therapist and hasn't gambled in more than a year. But she still owes about $50,000.

"When we moved out West I started going to Laughlin, Nev. It was a lot of fun. I'd usually lose $200-$300 in a weekend, do that two times a year.

"Then I stopped at Fort McDowell once. I thought, 'Wow, this is just like Las Vegas in my own backyard.' The worst thing that happened to me was that I won $5,000. Then the next weekend, I hit another $5,000. I was convinced I was the luckiest person in the world.

"Before I started gambling, I'd been married 29 years. I was conservative with money. My husband used to say I could stretch $10 to $20. But after you become compulsive, it doesn't matter whether you win or lose.

"It's not the money. It's the excitement of being there and winning, or maybe winning. You know that the jackpot will hit any minute so you will do anything to stay. I'd sit at a machine for 32 or 34 hours and not eat or go to the bathroom. We're robots. We're just compelled to sit there and pull the handle.

"It's an escape. When you're sitting there in front of the machine, it's just you and the machine. It's a wonderful place to stuff feelings. I'd pick a fight with my husband just so I could go, then I'd blame it on him. All you think of is yourself and your high.

"I started changing work appointments, calling in saying I had a flat tire or something. When I wasn't gambling I was thinking about how I could get there. You cover up your tracks. I maxed out five credit cards. I also went and got my own post office box so financial statements wouldn't go to my home.

"They have ATM machines in there. They make it so easy for you. They say they're on the lookout for compulsive gamblers but they're not. I hit rock bottom when I wrote $3,300 in bad checks at Fort McDowell over a 30-hour period.

"You feel totally insane. Finally it's all over. It's almost a relief.

"I'm not totally against gambling. For normal people it might be fun. But we're all at risk. If you're going once a week, there's the potential."

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