GSS 003: Running Off the Riverboat—The Day I Quit Gambling

Episode Details

Episode Three is one that hits particularly close to home for me. In this installment, I peel back the layers of one of my most vulnerable moments and share the raw and unedited tale of my last day of gambling. Titled “Running Off the Riverboat,” this episode delves deep into the emotions, the chaos, and the pivotal moment of clarity that marked the end of my gambling journey and the start of my road to recovery, dating back to July 15th of 2010.

As you listen, you’ll be with me, step by step, as I revisit the murky waters of compulsive gambling, the deception, the thrill, and ultimately, the despair that encapsulated that life. You’ll hear the story of a dark morning in a riverboat casino, the wake-up calls I received, and the pivotal moments that led to my escape from the clutches of addiction. It’s a raw and revealing look at the grip gambling can have, and the grace and strength it takes to break free. A reminder that no matter how entrenched in the addiction one may be, there is always a way out and a path to recovery. Join me as I bare it all, in the hope that my journey can light the way for others entwined in the throes of gambling addiction.

Full Episode Transcript

This is Episode Three of the “Gambling Still Sucks” podcast. In this episode, we will be discussing my last day gambling, aptly titled “Running Off the Riverboat.” [Music]

Hey there, and welcome to the Gambling Still Sucks podcast. My name is Jamie. I’m a compulsive gambler, and I’m the host of this show. The last day I gambled was July 15th of 2010, or as you will come to know in this episode, it’s the day I ran off the riverboat. So, as I get into sharing my story and my history with gambling, I thought it would be appropriate to start with the last day I gambled, July 15th of 2010.

Now, to set the scene, I was in Chicago for a trade show. I work in advertising and marketing, and there was a big trade show in Chicago that week. I’d gone up to it, stayed with a friend, and it was the last day, the day I was heading home. I got up early, really early, before they even woke up to leave, to head out to beat traffic. And as any of you compulsive gamblers out there are probably already thinking, or you’re smiling because you know that “beat traffic” is just another way to say to go to the casino.

So yes, I got out of Chicago early that morning; that must have been probably 6 a.m. I’m sort of an early riser as it is, but I left at 6 a.m. or somewhere around there and started driving home. This drive to Chicago is very familiar, and on the way up, I passed all the signs for the casinos in Indiana. I live in Ohio, and you drive through Indiana, which has casinos. Illinois does not. I believe they had riverboats at the time. Now, actually, Ohio has casinos, so we could go and play cards there now. But at the time, in 2010, casinos were not yet a thing in Ohio.

I saw this as a golden opportunity to stop on the way home. Nobody would be any wiser, and I could just stop and play a little bit of poker on my way home. I could tell them, “Hey, I left at 10 o’clock or whatever. I took my time, and I got home 6-7 o’clock at night.” Nobody would be curious or questioning where I was all day. And as compulsive gamblers, we’re always looking for these places where time and opportunity cross, and this was definitely one of them.

I’m driving, and I didn’t have a casino in mind that I would stop at. I knew about where they were in Indiana, and so all of a sudden, I saw the sign and got excited. I’m like, “Aha, yeah, I’m gonna do this!” I remember pulling off the highway and driving, following the signs. There are billboards everywhere because casinos want to make sure that you don’t get lost.

And so, I think every five seconds, there was a new billboard with instructions on where to go. This particular casino was a riverboat casino, and it was as sketchy, dirty, and weird as you can imagine. So, setting the scene, I park and go down in, and walking in, you walk down this ramp. It’s sort of a tunnel because you’re going onto the boat. At the end, there was a guy, and he was checking IDs. I pulled out my ID, and I saw there was a scanner. The places I had been gambling in Ohio was a local card room that was only open at certain times, and I really didn’t have much experience with these scanners. It freaked me out, and I was like, “Wait a second, I don’t really want to give them this because they’re gonna scan me, it’s gonna add me to a database, there’s gonna be records,” and so all those things that we as compulsive gamblers – it’s like this is impinging on my ability to hide it.

And so, even just going on the McMahan, and at that moment, I almost turned around and left. But I was like, “No, I’m a compulsive gambler. I’m gonna go in, and I’ll take this risk. Nobody will know. They’ll send stuff to my current address that’s on my ID, but I’m moving anyway, and so nobody will know.” So, I go past security, I go in, and I sit down at a poker table, and now it’s probably, I don’t know, 7:30 in the morning. It looked like what a riverboat casino poker table would look like at 7:30 in the morning. I think there were only two tables open, maybe even just one, playing the game that I used to play, Texas Hold’em. It was full of people that had clearly been there since at least the night before, if not longer.

And so, I thought, “Okay, this is cool, like they’re all gonna be sleepy and tired. I’ll take advantage of them and make a lot of money, and then I’ll get off this boat by like noon, so I can get home by six, seven o’clock, and nobody will be any wiser.” And so, I sat down and started playing, and as I expected, the people were pretty tired, and they were playing pretty loose, and it was a pretty wild game. And as was often the case, I was winning a little bit, and I was playing pretty tight, pretty conservatively, that’s how I usually played early on. And then the longer I played, I get more reckless, or if somebody beat me, my competitive side would come out, and I’d try and get them back.

But in this case, I was playing pretty conservatively and hit a couple of big hands, and all of a sudden, I was, I don’t know, I had probably doubled or tripled my money at that point. I was thinking, “Okay, man, I could probably leave now.” But like I say, I’m a compulsive gambler, so I wasn’t gonna leave yet. And so, I stayed and continued to play, and I had a hand that didn’t work out well, and I lost. Then I got mad, and I lost another hand that I shouldn’t have been playing, and that spiraled. Suddenly, now I’m down below what I started with.

And so now, I’m really spinning. I’m like, “Crap, I could have left here an hour and a half ago.” I had that conversation I had constantly in my head, which is, “You should have left before, but now you’re gonna stay, and you’re gonna try and get it back.” Well, then the stress went through the roof when I looked down, and my phone was vibrating in my pocket. When I pulled it out, it was my fiancée. Now, she thought I had quit gambling several years ago. She didn’t know that I was back playing poker at some card rooms in Cleveland and doing a little bit online. And so, her calling – I definitely wasn’t gonna pick up. I’m sitting in a casino on a riverboat, and when I hear anything in the background, I’m not gonna want to answer.

So, I click it to voicemail. Well, she keeps calling, and she keeps calling, and then she leaves a voicemail, then she leaves another voicemail, and all of a sudden, like, what’s going on? And I look at my phone in more detail, and I realize I have a call that dialed out to her. I called her first, and I forget it was like a 2 or 3-minute call. Well, obviously, it was in my pocket. I have no clue at this point what she heard. Did she hear the chips? Did she know that I was at a casino? Is that why she’s calling? What’s going on?

And so, I freaked out. I get up from the table, I quick run for the cashier, get the hundred bucks or whatever I had. I think she was even counting it out, and I’m like, “Look, just give me whatever.” At that point, I was taken 100. She’s counting out the individual chips to give me the exact amount, and I take my money. I run down that ramp up to my car, I get in my car, and I realized I have to call her back. I have to call her back. She’s still calling me, and so I figured whether I picked up one of the times she called, or if I called her back, and at this point, she’s frantic, and she doesn’t know what’s going on with me. I kind of get the feeling she is worried about my well-being. For all she knows, I’ve been kidnapped or whatever, and I’m trying to dial out, but I can’t.

And eventually, I just come clean. I’m at a casino, and as I’m driving away, I remember telling her, “I’m so sorry. I stopped, I was playing poker. I don’t know what you heard.” And I came clean and spilled the beans. I mean, I didn’t come clean to the fact that I got caught, but once I got caught, I came clean and started telling her what was going on. And needless to say, that was not a conversation either one of us wanted to have, and she was at work, so she just said, “Look, I can’t do this right now. We’ll talk when you get home tonight.”

So, after I hang up with her, I begin what is the longest and most sobering drive of my life, about a five-hour drive home from Indiana to Ohio. And along the way, I start calling people. I called my mom, and I told her what was going on. I called my sister because she knew about some of my problems, and she lived along the way. And I stopped, and I talked with her, and she gave me some of the best advice you could imagine. I’ll probably cover this in more depth, but at one point, I was talking to her, and she said, “Look, Jamie, you’re saying all the right things, but deep down, it still sounds like you can do it.”

And I don’t know why, but that has stuck with me. I mean, I remember it word-for-word. And she was right. I was saying all the right things because I got caught, but deep down, I still thought I could do it. And so, her calling me out was a huge turning point for me, and it really kind of set me back and said, “Look, man, this – you need to change. Like, you can’t just think you’re gonna keep doing this.” And so, that was a huge moment. Along the way, I also called one of my poker buddies that I used to only go play poker with. We didn’t really hang out outside of that. It was just he and I both liked to play cards, we liked to do it in secrecy, basically, and we were kind of in this relationship where we call up, and it was somebody to drive with, somebody to ride with, somebody that didn’t ask you too many questions if you won or you lost.

And so, I called him and said, “Look, I’m done. Don’t call me, don’t text me, I’m not gonna go.” And I remember when I hung up the phone with him, that was one of those things I talked about in the last episode about taking actions, and that action was huge. And he kind of chuckled, “Oh yeah, sure. You’ll be back. You’ll be back.” And that was the last time I’ve spoken with him ever. And so, it’s interesting with the people you gambled with, once you’re done, and you’re out of it, you were only talking to them or friends with them because of gambling. But taking those actions and starting to sever some of those ties is very uncomfortable but very effective.

And so, I drove all the way home. I met up with my then-fiancée, now wife, must’ve been about 6 or 7 o’clock at night. And she looked at me and she said, “Look, you have a problem, and you need to get help, and you’re gonna go to GA.” And she started laying out the things that were gonna happen in order for us to stay together. And needless to say, I felt about as crappy as possible because this was 60 days before we were set to get married. So, what a great guy that drops this on his fiancée just months before their wedding.

Now, this was obviously a tremendously low moment in my life. But I have to say, the fact that she reached out, said, “Look, I know you have a problem. I know you can get help,” there was a sense of belief in me that was coming from someone else. And it was a belief that I didn’t even have in myself at the time. And so, hearing her say those words changed my life. It allowed me to start to see that, okay, maybe I can change this. If she knows, like, I mean she’s seen people on Intervention and I’m gonna do all these steps, and it really started the ball rolling into me taking the actions, going to GA, ended up going to personal therapy as well, starting to come clean about all these things, that really started to set my life of recovery in motion.

And so, there it is, that is the day that I ran off the riverboat, and it’s the last day I gambled, July 15th of 2010. And it’s the day that will hopefully be my clean date for the rest of my life. Now, in the next episode, we are going to be discussing how I went from being somebody that was completely anti-gambling, that hated gambling, to an addicted poker player. And so, we’ll sort of do the first half of my story of how I became a compulsive gambler.

Finally, before I let you go, just want to remind you, if you haven’t already, please subscribe if you’d like to continue to receive updates for when new episodes come out. And then also, if you have a chance, I would be very, very, very thankful if you have a chance to leave that review. Because that’s what’s going to help spread the message, to help get this kind of ranking higher in the rankings on iTunes, on Stitcher, are the reviews. And so, if you have a chance, 30 seconds to a minute, just leave a quick review. That would be awesome. I would be very, very thankful and appreciative.

As a disclaimer, this podcast does not provide legal or medical advice. Look, I’m not a doctor, I’m not an attorney, and I’m not a therapist. I’m just a guy that had a gambling problem. So, while we’ll discuss a lot of topics, and I’ll provide a lot of insight into what’s worked for me, please seek out the help of a professional. Go visit a lawyer, a doctor, or a therapist to help you deal with your gambling problem. The information that we discuss is for informational purposes and should not be taken as professional legal or medical advice. And reliance on the information appearing on this podcast is solely at your own risk.

The music for this podcast is “Something Elated” by Broke For Free and is licensed under the Creative Commons.