An Interview with an Addict
A few weeks ago I was in Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack at around 4:00a.m., (I have an unusual work schedule, so sometimes I end up picking up Free Play and/or looking for plays at unusual times) and I was passing through the casino smoking a cigarette when a gentleman seated at one of the armchairs waved me over to him.
"Hey, kid, do you mind bumming me one of those smokes?"
"Kid? I'm thirty-two years old, but no, I don't mind, here you go."
Taking the cigarette, he may have winked at me, "Thirty-Two, thirty-two, definitely a man, are you? I left thirty-two forty years ago, so I say you're a kid. You're a nice kid, but you're still a kid."
I liked this guy already.
Even though I had a couple of machines I wanted to check, well, maybe only one at that time, (someone had been on a Bonus Time and I wanted to see if they left it in a good spot) I took a seat next to the gentleman and asked him why he was just hanging out in the middle of the casino.
"I'm out of cash," he replied, "Free Play is going to load this morning, but not until 6:00."
I pulled out my phone and tapped the power button to see the time, "It's only 4:00," I stated, "How much Free Play do you have that you're going to sit here for two hours?"
"Thirty bucks," my new acquaintance replied, "And...I'll probably lose it. I'm a little upset with myself just now, I got up to $600 max betting on the new Quick Hits machine, which I almost never do, and I gave it all back."
"You should try not to do that," I said bluntly, "I think I've seen you on these seats before. Maybe you were waiting for Free Play then, too, it's none of my business but do you think that maybe..."
He cut me off, "That I have a gambling problem, is that what you're going to ask?"
"The thought had occurred to me," I said flatly.
"I might have a gambling problem," he retorted, "But then, I might have a nothing better to do problem."
At this point, I asked him if he might want something to eat, on me, if he'd give me a few minutes for an interview. I also attempted to sweeten the pot by also offering him $10 to tinker with after the interview until the Free Play got loaded. Almost insulted, he declined the $10 stating that he likely has a bigger income per month than I do, (he was right) but said he would accept a meal if I promised to let him return the favor sometime.
I pointed out that alcoholic beverages are damn expensive at the casino, and should he ever see me there on a Sunday, I wouldn't mind having the value of the meal returned in the form of Tequila Sunrises instead. With an ironic grin on his face, he replied, "I agree to your terms, but you really shouldn't drink, it's bad for you." I left to get my notebook and returned five minutes later.
NOTE: It should be noted that he asked me not to use his real first name, so we're just going to call him Arthur, because I think he looks like an Arthur. I also didn't want to interrupt the flow of the conversation, so his answers are going to be very close paraphrases rather than actual quotes as most everything consists of scribble notes:
Mission146: Okay, Arthur, I'm calling you Arthur for this interview because I think you look like one. Anyway, you said you may have more of a, 'Nothing better to do,' problem, do you not have any family?
Arthur: Well, my first wife died twenty-five years ago-
M146: I'm sorry.
Arthur: Don't be. It got me out of that marriage. I'm too religious to have divorced her, but I truly couldn't stand the woman. We had a son together and he turned into a pretty good man, but that's about all I got from that marriage that was positive.
M146: Kill her?
Arthur: Now, if I'm too religious to divorce her, don't you think I'd be too religious to kill her? Myself, I mean. I had her killed. I'm kidding, of course, she died from a massive coronary.
M146: What's your son up to these days?
Arthur: I had him pretty late in the game, he's actually only ten years older than you are. I never had any other kids, though my first wife did have one miscarriage. He works for some oil company in Texas.
M146: Ouch, oil is way down.
Arthur: Don't worry about his job, he's one of the top guys, so he's safe. I'd tell you more about it, but I just don't know. I talk to him pretty regularly, on Skype believe it or not, I had to be proficient at the Internet for my job and I just retired six years ago...but I keep up with technology pretty good.
(NOTE: "Keep up...pretty good," those are definitely his words and not mine. I would say, 'Pretty well,' but I remember that he definitely said, "Pretty good,' because that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up!)
M146: Does he have any kids, and what sort of work did you do?
Arthur: I was a Controller for a trucking company and he has two kids that I think are going to grow up and be pretty good kids. He's still married, and if they don't get along, he never said anything to me about it. By the way, my second wife of ten years died two years ago, you can apologize for that one, she was the love of my life.
M146: I'm sorry.
Arthur: Why? You didn't do it, did you?
M146: You said I could apologize.
Arthur: Well, yeah, and you can if you really want to. You had no reason to, though.
M146: Fair enough. Do you ever get down to Texas or vice-versa?
Arthur: I go down for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. All of which are enjoyable for a half hour. I don't really talk to his wife or her family much, and they're all down there. The kids are good kids, but they're a little too old to be much worried about me. They're both teenagers, they only had them a year apart.
M146: Any other family?
Arthur: My good-for-nothing brother might still be alive, but let's hope not. My second wife had a daughter from a previous marriage, but we fell out of contact.
M146: Do you regret retiring?
Arthur: I regret not having a choice in the matter, so, yes.
M146: Are you from this area?
Arthur: That's a loaded question. I am in the sense that I was born in this area and lived here until I was twenty, but then I moved to Tennessee for a job and didn't leave that state until I had retired. Both of my wives are from there, if I go to Heaven, hopefully only the second one will be there and God will see fit to reincarnate the first one back to Tennessee.
M146: What brought you back?
Arthur: I was bored with Tennessee, just needed a change of scenery. I have a house that was passed down to me from my father and I was using it as a rental property. Those tenants left, so I decided to move back into it. It was either this or Texas, but I'd have felt out of place barging in my son's business in Texas. If I ever lose the faculties I'll probably move down there, but for now I can bathe myself, put my clothes on and I'm still driving, so might as well be independent while I can.
M146: This is all interesting enough, but I was really fishing for a good segue into gambling. I can't find one. Is it cool if I switch us to some gambling questions?
Arthur: It's your interview.
M146: Thanks. What has you here in the early a.m. talking to me while you wait for a Free Play reload?
Arthur: Other than the promised food I'm now eating?
M146: Well, yeah.
Arthur: Being bored. Do you want me to do model airplanes, maybe put together jigsaw puzzles all day long? I guess it could be the strip club, but if you don't mind, the equipment doesn't really work, so I have no use for that. I usually don't play very high amounts, so $100 can last a long time if you are only betting thirty cents a game and talking people up when you have the chance.
M146: You mentioned religion, are you involved with your Church?
Arthur: I keep the Lord's day. I go to Church on Sundays and I don't gamble on Sundays. Don't worry, I'll still keep to those drinks I said I'd buy you because it's Monday as soon as midnight hits, so I'm here sometimes. Other than that, the only problem with religion is religious people...besides, I see enough of the congregation here at the casino, so I'll talk them up.
Arthur: Lutheran, you were close.
M146: You mentioned $100, any specific reason for choosing that amount?
Arthur: That's the most I'll lose in a day. I get my checks and pay my bills. After that, I put $100 in a separate account for each day I intend to gamble and I'll only take out a few hundred at a time. Any other money goes into another account for groceries and things like that...which always has more money than it did the month before...and I tithe my 10% monthly.
M146: How many days a month do you gamble?
Arthur: How many Sundays are in that month?
M146: When do you stop?
Arthur: I told you, when I lose $100.
M146: No, I meant on the other side. Do you ever stop when you win?
Arthur: I always stop after I double the hundred if I get back down to the original hundred.
M146: You'll excuse my contradiction, I hope, but you literally just did not do that earlier.
Arthur: Yeah, that's rare, fun machine. For every hundred I get ahead I usually stick those hundreds in a separate pocket and I gamble the rest. I usually bet more once I've already won, unless I still want to stay for awhile. I want to win $100 off this Free Play so I don't have to go to the bank and get $100 for tonight.
M146: How frequently do you actually tuck the extra hundreds in a different pocket and keep them there?
Arthur: I'm being honest. Almost always. In two years, I've probably only been ahead by over a hundred and given it all back plus the first hundred three times.
M146: What's the most you've won?
Arthur: $7,000. I sent it to my son and told him to divide it between the two kids' college savings accounts.
M146: How did you start gambling?
Arthur: All I ever did after moving here for the first month was go to church on Sundays and watch TV. I needed something to do. A gambling addict at my church asked for prayer to help him break the habit, I see him here sometimes, he talked about how easy it was to lose yourself in a fun slot game and how much time could go by without you realizing it. That sounded like just the thing for me, and it turns out, he was right.
M146: Addict by choice?
Arthur: I don't even think I would say I'm an addict. If I had something more entertaining to do, I'd be doing that, don't you think?
M146: Fair argument. Why do you come so late?
Arthur: I worked midnight shift for the trucking company, so I tended to sleep from about noon until eight o' clock, or so. I honestly just never got out of that schedule. I didn't see a reason to. I'd been on that schedule for twenty years, so why change?
M146: Basically, you always lose a fixed sum of money, you're staying on the schedule you're used to, and if you could find something more entertaining than gambling, you'd be doing that. You also don't mind the casino being perhaps your second most likely place for social contact, is that right?
Arthur: Sounds good.
M146: I guess that's all I have.
Arthur: Okay. Hopefully, we'll talk again.
M146: I'll definitely say hi when I see you and, 'Talk you up,' on occasion. This will probably be the only time it is in an interview context, though.
I don't really know what to make of this interview. On paper, Arthur is certainly an addict, but if everything he is saying is true, he has it pretty well under control. This conversation makes me wonder how many of the same people I see at the casino staring intently at the machines and doing almost nothing but losing are similarly situated. Certainly many addicts end up losing everything, but it seems that gambling can also be a legitimate (if not addictive) hobby for people, as well.
The only thing that I know is that I certainly don't feel bad for Arthur due to his gambling. I feel bad for him due to the loneliness that apparently led to this being his primary source of entertainment; but assuming everything he said is true, his gambling doesn't worry me at all.