Peter King is on vacation until July 18, and he lined up some guest writers to fill his Monday spot on Football Morning in America. Today’s guest is Doc G. (a pseudonym), a compulsive gambler and member of Gamblers Anonymous.
The moment 20 years ago is etched in my mind. I had a great job and an office with a dream view. The phone rang, and when I picked up, I heard a hysterical cry on the other end. “What have you done?” my wife shrieked. She discovered that I cleared out an entire investment account of thousands of dollars.
She was beyond disbelief when she discovered the facts. My emotions overflowed. I knew my gambling was wrong and out of control. Even worse, we had been through this before. I was mortified at being caught, embarrassing my wife and family. Still, despite the pain, the remorse, the self-loathing, there was also relief.
I had an addiction. I was sick. I needed help. I led a secret life, dishonest, self-centered, manipulative. It took time, but I began to see that if I could stop gambling, become transparent about my actions, start doing the right things, my life, our lives, could be saved and healed.
I’m not proud of my actions, but I’m pleased about the path I’ve taken to recovery. If one person finds these stories helpful, sharing my story will be worth it.
So what does this have to do with the NFL? Why did Peter King give me this space to tell my story and the stories of others close to me? When I turn on the TV today and see wall-to-wall ads urging people to gamble on sports, I think about the major influence the commercials are having. I think about the thousands, perhaps millions, of people who are likely to start betting on sports. The league, team and betting company commercials—luring viewers with great deals if they download the app and open an account—follow every major sport now, so it’s impossible to watch a game and not be bombarded by betting ads.
Many bettors are able to handle gambling. But many also will be me.
They rationalize, “This is going to make the games more fun,” or “This will be a way to make me interested in games I don’t care about.” Both are true. But they’re also fool’s gold. Eventually, with gambling accounts tied to an app and credit card, the bill comes due.
In 2012, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said: “If gambling is permitted freely on sporting events, normal incidents of the game such as bad snaps, dropped passes, turnovers, penalties, and play calling inevitably will fuel speculation, distrust and accusations of point-shaving or game-fixing.”
In 2016, before sports gambling was legal across the country, Goodell was asked again about the NFL’s stance. He said, “We remain very much opposed to gambling on sports. We want to make sure we’re doing what’s right for the game.”
Less than six years later, the NFL has been able to monetize gambling. This week, the NFL appointed an in-house betting boss. All of a sudden, betting on football is okay.
Jason Roberts, co-founder of DraftKings, said on CNBC a year ago: “The NFL is definitely the biggest betting sport from a volume perspective. But it’s even bigger from a new customer and new bettor perspective.
“Remember there’s only  NFL weeks. There’s a handful of playoff games and Super Bowl week. Compare that to 82 games for NHL and NBA and 162 for baseball. So, even despite having less events, the NFL is the biggest generator of revenue. When you look at it from an activation and a new customer standpoint, it’s way larger than anything else.”
An estimated $7 billion was bet on the 2022 Super Bowl.
“Sports gambling is growing rapidly with significant potential to create or worsen gambling problems,” says The National Council on Problem Gambling, a national advocate for those impacted by problem gambling.
The NCPG is neutral on legalized gambling and works with all stakeholders, including the NFL, to promote responsible gambling, according to Executive Director Keith Whyte.
The NFL made partnership deals with DraftKings, FanDuel and Caesars in 2021, and also secondary deals with other gambling companies. The big three partnerships reportedly will bring the league a total of $1 billion over five years. It’s amazing to think the NFL now makes more money from its partnerships with gambling companies than from either beer or auto industries.
The commercials are so cool, like JB Smoove with the Manning family. Gambling on the NFL is fun—come on, do it, you’ll love it.
I realize people are going to bet. I’m not writing this to purge gambling from the American landscape. I know that won’t happen.
I’m just here to urge football fans to please think about the consequences of the gambling addiction and know that Gamblers Anonymous is a gateway and a safe place to go if you think you have a problem.
Doc G.’s Story
Back to that day in the office with a dream view 20 years ago. I started individual therapy and returned to Gamblers Anonymous (again). I admitted (again) that I was incapable of controlling this compulsive-gambling addiction myself. It meant making amends (again) to my wife and family and others that I harmed. Most importantly, I started the process (again) of making amends to myself, finding help in forgiving myself.
As I look back, the destructiveness of my gambling seems unimaginable. I experienced an erosion of the soul, of the emotion about the important things, the true caring of others and self. And it is the invisible self that is at the foundation of who we are at the core.
The therapist suggested I attend 90 GA meetings in 90 days. I could always go back to gambling if that didn’t work. I went to meetings three times a week. Today, I go to one or two meetings a week, all virtual because of Covid. I’ve had the same sponsor for 20 years. I became a sponsor, too, as a way to give back and as a continuing reminder to myself of what I have gained by not gambling.
The disease does not respect anyone. I’ve heard thousands of therapies—at least 25 a week for some 20 years or 25,000. The pain and suffering that the addiction of compulsive gambling causes to individuals and families is monumental. But just as transformational is the recovery one can achieve through the Gamblers Anonymous program.
GA asks new members not to watch sports for at least a year. That was important when I was new to the program. It’s even more important giving the insatiable betting opportunities in your face from every major sports league and team.
I first joined GA in the mid-90s. I was struggling with gambling; my marriage was chaotic. We were living paycheck to paycheck. A therapist told me he couldn’t help my gambling problem and suggested GA. I went for some months but dropped out, deciding that betting on golf was not a big deal, not really gambling but what all golfers do. What a fantasy! The golf bets soon went from a 5-5-5 Nassau to large sums. I was the main instigator in our foursome of doubling down on bets to amounts I couldn’t afford. It was about wanting to be the big shot and make the big play. That led back to casino and blackjack gambling and the losses became staggering. So, in desperation for money, among other things, I cleaned out that investment account—not in one moment but over months.
“I’ll pay it back,” I told myself the first time I dipped into the fund. It didn’t happen. I went back to the fund time and again until it was dry. I knew there would be a price to pay at home if ever the truth was discovered. But by this time, the risk didn’t matter. I was hooked on blackjack, going to casinos regularly and finding reasons to be in casino areas for business. A sales call, dinner with clients, colleagues, conferences, always with the seductive path to gambling that would be included in those meetings.
The anticipation of getting to the blackjack table was intoxicating. I carefully put a few bucks in my car’s glove compartment to stop for coffee or pay tolls to get home. Just before arriving at the casino, I’d stop at a restaurant or gas station and go to the bathroom so I wouldn’t waste time getting up from the casino tables.
I could spend hours at a table, starting with a small amount of money, slowly and patiently building winnings at the $10 table. The goal was to get a pile of money and head to the high-roller room, which I sometimes did. The minimum bet was $100, and I liked to play more than one hand. I recall with some awe seeing a pro sports team owner playing all seven hands with a stack of chips at each one.
The goal for me was to walk out with a load of money. One time on a successful night I asked for security to walk me to the car. That momentary success just whet my appetite for more and led me back to the tables. I had dreams of keeping the money, of investing it wisely, but addiction doesn’t work that way. The idea of risking more and more simply took over.
Still, I walked a careful line because I didn’t want to be caught. I didn’t want to jeopardize my job and my marriage. I was careful about not putting money on credit cards because my wife was wise to my issues and would watch and probe and certainly learned not to trust me. And I didn’t take out casino advances because that would show up on invoices.
So I hid cash in the house, but it was never in the closet cubby hole for long. I always went back.
Hooked now in a larger way, I lived for the next bet. I managed my work schedule, the money and the excuses for the time I was away. I opened a savings account, then borrowed money from that institution. It became my gambling slush fund.
Dealing with reality was not easy for me. As the youngest, I felt entitled. My parents were devout, and religion played a very important role in our lives. The “nos” always seemed loud and overdone to me. “Don’t do this or that” seemed like the primary message to these ears. And I rebelled by making my own rules, including gambling and stealing at an early age. That led down the road to addiction and to finally understand that I needed GA.
I’m proud of the changes I’ve made during recovery. My wife is still with me, and we face the challenges of life together in real ways. I am profoundly grateful for GA, my sponsor and the many mentors I have in the program.
National Council On Problem Gambling help line: 1-800-522-4700