Hitting 21: A Compulsive Gambler Finally Busts
A man arrived at the Irvine Spectrum on a chilly Saturday night wearing old, light blue jeans and an old T-shirt showing several decks of crisp Bicycle playing cards. For the next two hours, he was a magician, hunting down and performing dazzling card tricks for onlookers and couples sitting at tables outside the many restaurants. He didn’t need a cape or a hat. He awed his spectators with sleight of hand tricks similar to those seen on David Blaine specials. This was his new hobby. This was what he did for enjoyment, to help him escape. At 44 years old, software engineer Roger was a compulsive gambler.
A husband and father of 12 children, he was never a gambling man. In fact, he had never even stepped foot into a casino until one night in May of 2001. After a small argument with his wife, Roger needed to release some steam. He decided to go for a short drive in the desert. Roger drove without thought, without reason. He simply needed something to take up his time. As he drove around the Palms Desert, the alluring, glimmering lights of the Fantasy Springs Casino beckoned him.
Roger just needed something to do.
He parked his car in the desolate lot. After getting out he slammed the car door, a jagged sound that echoed into the vast abyss of the night. The sounds of slot machines, music, lights and screams of both jovial and miserable men and women filled the air as he approached the entrance of the casino. The inside smelled of freshly lit cigarettes and a hint of despair. Eventually, he found a blackjack table with an open seat. The players and the dealer greeted Roger with smiles. It was a nice situation. Everyone at the table was winning. It was a scary feeling for Roger, though. He sat down and nervously bought in for $50 worth of chips. Roger learned how to play blackjack that night. He sat there for an hour, betting, hitting and winning.
At 1:30 a.m., Roger left the casino up $150. ‘Easy money,’ he thought. In his hand was a gangster’s roll of cash folded and bound together tightly by a rubber band. ‘Easy money.’
As Roger slept, the idea of ‘easy money’ occupied his thoughts constantly. The next morning, on his way to work, he went back to the same casino to play more blackjack.
Roger was hooked. The thought of earning money in a short amount of time was appealing. He began to visit the casino more frequently. He devised a business plan and studied the game as well as what it would take to structure a betting plan to make a decent amount of revenue.
At night, the only sound audible in Roger’s silent house was the incessant clicking of the mouse as he played thousands upon thousands of blackjack hands on the computer. He needed to understand the game the best he could. Just as day turns into night, Roger’s obsession grew stronger with every waking moment.
The situation at home continued to worsen and fights became more frequent. It was obvious he and his wife needed some time apart. Roger would use this time for gambling. He would leave around four in the afternoon, right after work, and play until two or three in the morning. It was a thirst that needed to be quenched. When he finished at the casino, it was another lonesome ride home with nothing but the radio to keep him company. It was a long and weary two-hour drive both ways. This soon became routine for Roger, who didn’t care about being tired. The excitement level was too high; his adrenaline pumped.
He loved not giving a damn about responsibilities. He could forget about everything and everyone. It allowed him to fight the loneliness and family problems in his life. At the blackjack table, he could be with eight or nine other people, not talking to any of them, and feel like he belonged.
Roger maintained a steady cash flow through his years of gambling. He never allowed himself to lose more than what he brought with him on that particular night. Whatever he won, he would take it to the casino the following day to either double that amount or lose it all and start over with next week’s paycheck.
His family began to suspect something after the many late hours at ‘work’ and in the fatigue evident in the bags beneath his eyes. Roger convinced his wife that it was merely a hobby. ‘Something to pass the time,’ he claimed. His wife hesitantly accepted that it was a hobby but in doing so told him to limit his playing. Without having the luxury of going whenever he wanted anymore, he missed his freedom.
Roger’s gambling led him to Sin City itself on many occasions. Las Vegas was where the big dogs came to play. The high rollers, the gamblers with wads of cash in each pocket squandering their paychecks all on one hand of blackjack. Lives and dreams are crushed here and families are torn apart, but Roger didn’t care.
However, Roger’s life changed with one trip to Vegas during January of 2003. The plan was to fly there during the day and fly back before dinner-time to avoid suspicion from his wife and family. He carried $2,000 dollars in cash, all in $100 bills bounded by a rubber band.
He boarded the plane, unable to sleep. Eyes wide open, he sat in his seat for an hour and waited anxiously to land. Despite having visited Vegas many times, each time was exactly the same