My Dad is a Gambleaholic. As kids we were often left alone on the weekends as our parents went off to Vegas or Reno for getaway excursions. My sister is a lot older than I, so it made it quite easy for them to get away for these little trips. I never thought anything of it until maybe 15 years ago when the first Indian casino cropped up just a mile away from where my parents lived. Whenever I would come home to visit, they would always be out at the casinos. The first time I realized it was a problem, was when my Dad left to get a bag of ice on Christmas Eve and he did not come home for over 5 hours (well after all the guests had arrived) sans the bag of ice. This made my mother cry. My brother had a talk with my Dad about it and my Dad swore he was done with those evil places. This would become his mantra for the next 10 years and he would tell us these very words over and over; every time we found out he was still gambling.
By some small favor, my Dad never uses his credit cards to gamble, so he is not in debt over it, but all in all I would venture to guess he has probably lost about 5 million dollars in $20 increments over the last 40 years. For a retired man on a fixed income, that 5 mill would come in handy right about now.
When my mother died, the gambling got worse and he would spend entire nights at the casino. At least we knew where he was.
When he met his girlfriend last year, he swore to her that he would not gamble any more. The time they spent together distracted him enough and seemed to be the cure he needed.
I went home to California this past weekend for my grandparent’ 63rd wedding anniversary. My brother picked me up at the airport and he told me not to let my Dad go to the casino this weekend. My brother said that we remind my Dad of his loss and he does not know how to deal with his emotion, so he loses himself in the slot machines. When my Dad was driving me back to his house later that night, he insisted we swing by the Shodakai casino in Hopland. I objected. My Dad said: “I am never going into those evil places again” as we drove into the casino parking lot.
He plopped himself in front of a penny slot machine that said you can win $1000 by playing twenty cents. You do not really play a penny at a time; you play 90 pennies at a time or with nickel machines, you can play (and lose) up to $10.00 at a single press of a button. I wandered over to a nickel machine and promptly lost $36.00, all the money in my wallet. I went back over to where my Dad was and watched him punch the button that said SPIN over and over and over and over. He kept saying: “Last one last one last one” over and over and over. When he lost all the money he put in the machine, we got up to leave and he said: “Let me just try the Cougar 500 machine, I always have luck with this one” and before I could stop him, he inserted a $20 into the slot and began maniacally hitting the spin button over and over and over again. I was horrified. I looked around at the dregs of humanity around me: mostly older white people looking haggard, all with a cigarette hanging out of their mouths, some playing 2 machines at once.
The next morning, I woke up in my childhood home. When I padded out into the living room, I realized my Dad was not at home. I figured he went to his girlfriend’s house, but about 3 hours later his girlfriend called for him. I could not hide the surprise in my voice when I told her he was not there. He returned a bit after that and said he was just gassing up the car. For 4 hours?! I pressed him and he finally admitted where he was: “I am never going back into those evil places ever again; I am done with it!” I told him he was lying to himself. “No I am not, I am never going back”. You are lying to yourself, Dad. “No I am not”.
He later admitted that his girlfriend almost dumped him a few months earlier when she found out he was still gambling and lying about it. She got him to go to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting, which he said was bogus. She does not know he is still gambling, but it is worth the risk for him.
When it came time to drive me back to the Oakland airport, we left a little earlier so we could stop by my brother’s house, which is just 5 minutes away from the airport. My brother has a one-year-old little boy whom my father never sees, so it was nice we could all hang out. About 10 minutes after we got there, my Dad started getting squirmy. He said he was so tired because he had not been getting any sleep lately, so he wanted to get a jump on the two and a half hour drive back home and take a nap. My brother agreed to drive me to the airport in an hour and in a whoosh my Dad was gone. It took me one minute to realize that he still had my suitcase in his trunk. My brother dashed after him to try and catch him before he hit the freeway, but the drawbridge went up with my brother stuck on one side while my Dad was on the other side, driving away. Luckily I had my wallet with me with my ID & E-ticket for my flight, so I could still get home, but I would have to leave without my stuff. I left a message on my Dad’s answering machine telling him what happened. By the time I got home late that night, I expected a message from him apologizing for the mishap, but there was none. I called him again, but he was still not home even though he should have been home about 6 hours ago. I knew where he was and my heart fell. He would rather spend time at the casino than with his own children and new grandchild. I did not question him about his whereabouts. I just told him I loved him and sadly hung up the phone.