“Problem Gambling Awareness Month” My Guest Is Vegas Judy. “What If You Live In Las Vegas?”


WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A RECOVERING GAMBLER LIVING IN LAS VEGAS.
by JUDY G.

MEET, VEGAS JUDY!

 

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This is about two aspects of me – my evolution as a compulsive and then recovering gambler – and my growing fascination and compulsion to be in Las Vegas. Intertwined?Yes. But also distinct and separate. What I mean by that is: If gambling didn’t exist in Las Vegas, would I still want to live here? Yes.

However, since gambling does exist here, would I want to live anywhere else? No.

Now, back to the beginnings:

My childhood years certainly didn’t include this yearning to be in Las Vegas. But I guess I always had yearnings – and in those days, it was to live in the Golden State – California. I  spent the first 8 years of my life exclusively in California – mainly Lodi and Woodland. But when I was 9, my father “re-upped” and went back into the Air Force, and shortly after that, he was sent to Korea.

In Fifth Grade, I went to four different schools, including one in Texas and one in Virginia. This was the beginning of my Air Force brat experiences, and at the same time, I began thinking that “everything would be perfect” if I could just be with my friends in California. So I always had that propensity to think the “grass was greener” somewhere else.

I started living in a sort of “escape fantasy land” whenever real life got too rough. Since most of our relatives lived in California, no matter where we were stationed in the U.S., we usually made a road trip back to the Golden State at least once – usually during the summer. Quite often, these trips would take us through Las Vegas, where often we’d stop and spend the night. During those early years, I never thought about gambling, of course. It was strictly an adult playland then.

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I was mostly aware of the celebrities who might be lounging around the pools or perhaps wandering in the casinos. I remember once being in a casino with my parents and hearing “Paging Mr. Belafonte, Mr. Harry Belafonte.” This was heady stuff for a movie-star-struck young girl. If my parents went to see a show at night, my sister and I didn’t mind. We’d stay at our motel, go swimming in the pool that was usually opened all night, and have fun on our own. I do remember seeing the “fantasyland” aspects of the Strip, such as it was, back in those days; such as the camels in front of the Sahara, the Sultan in front of the Dunes. But that’s all Las Vegas was to me then – a convenient stop on our way to my “mecca”, California.

As far as gambling, I had literally no experience or feeling about it one way or the other. Ironically, we were stationed in Wiesbaden Germany when I was 17, and my first “job” was giving out change for the small bank of slot machines in the Officer’s Club (the General Von Steuben). This was a pretty boring job. Hardly anyone spent much time in that little space.

I do, however, remember one woman who was pretty much a “regular,”  She started out feeding quarters into one particular machine and would stand there for hours, having drinks and hitting several jackpots, but by the end of the evening, there she was, slightly weaving, by now barefoot (there were no stools for the gamblers then, and those high heels got too tricky to stand in after awhile and after a few drinks) and her winnings had long gone back into the machine. I remember thinking how stupid and boring the whole thing was. (Little did I know that I was to become that woman one day).

My next exposure to gambling was back in Las Vegas. My first husband and I had (not surprisingly) gone to Vegas for our honeymoon.  In those days, there were no video poker machines, and I didn’t know how to play any “table games of chance”, so I just put a few quarters in the single reel slot machine and I might get lucky and win the “jackpot” – $25.

My second husband and I also went to Las Vegas on our honeymoon. He has the dubious honor of being the one who taught me how to play 21.  After winning a small jackpot on a machine, he suggested taking my winnings and playing blackjack. Of course, we had our Beginners’ Luck there, and that became my new favorite game, and a reason to escape to Vegas whenever I could talk him into it…

By the end of our marriage, we were two full-blown alcoholics, but he was happy to do his drinking every night in front of the TV set.  I, on the other hand, wanted the action and excitement and fantasy of Las Vegas!

 

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One night I got into an argument with him and ended up taking off in my car.  I was picked up by the police somewhere near Ontario, California, heading to L.A., yet I told the police I was driving to Vegas.  The fact that I had my housedress on and was drunk might have alerted the police to the veracity of my statement, and I spent that night in jail.  Toward the end of my second marriage, I had met my third husband-to-be, who was temporarily my “escape companion”.  Why not? He had no job, no ties.  Why wouldn’t he hook up with this crazy alcoholic who had a car, and all she asked of him was to drive her to Vegas.

When we’d first arrive, I would hit the tables and eventually pass out– sometimes in the casino (where I had to be carried to the room) – and sometimes waited til I was in the room. Inevitably, the next day I’d be suffering a mighty hangover and severe pangs of regret and guilt, and we’d morosely head back to the disapproving situation at home. Sometime in 1986, I had stopped drinking (after it quit working for me, and I had become suicidal).

Everyone predicted that I would want to leave my “companion” who was 14 years younger than I, a drug addict and unemployed. But I insisted that we were “in love” and it didn’t matter if he continued to use and I had stopped; love would conquer all. We probably WOULD have split up, if it hadn’t been that I got pregnant (surprise!) at age 45, so now we had to stay together, and do the right thing.

So, here I was, a new mother (again), supporting my baby and my (by then) husband.  My only escape was the periodic trips to Vegas.  I wasn’t drinking anymore, so that was good, but that hadn’t stopped my desire to go to Vegas; in fact, it was stronger than ever. You see, I didn’t realize it, but my quitting drinking was possible because I simply substituted the one addiction for another – gambling.  A couple of years later, I decided “enough with these 12 trips a year to Vegas; let’s move there.”  Again, my husband had no reason to deny the request.  I was able to retire from my county job, after 22 years of service and have a small retirement stipend, and made sure I had a new job waiting for me in Las Vegas before we moved here.

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Sometime after we moved here, my husband brought home one of those hand held video poker machines.  I had never played poker before – only once, during a neighborhood friendly game, in which I had surprisingly won, with beginners’ luck, not having any idea what I was doing.  But with this hand-held amazing little thing, I learned to hone my skills quite sharply. Each time I went to a casino, it seemed that there were new and varied video poker games double bonus, triple bonus, bonus deluxe, etc., etc. In the last couple of years they added the three reels at a time, and now they even have 50 or 100 games you can play at a time. It’s mind-boggling!!

Now I had found the perfect answer to my female gambler’s dream. I didn’t have to sit and make chit chat with the other players at the 21 table. It could be just me and my machine –my lover–for hours at a time. No one to disturb us. The cocktail waitress would come around and occasionally I’d have a grapefruit juice (liquor was out, of course). This is a little personal, but I have to say that but sometimes I’d actually feel a mini-orgasm when I hit a jackpot. Meanwhile, at home, my libido was practically non-existent.

Sometimes the other players’ cigarette smoke would bother me, but usually, I could even ignore that – especially if I had a “hot” machine. I also loved it if they were playing the “right” music –usually some sultry and sensual, Marvin Gaye songs (“Let’s Get it On”), etc., or hits from further back –at a time when I was young and innocent.  The atmosphere in the casino appealed to me too –dark, soft neon lights flashing here and there, beckoning “come, play me”. No sense of time, no windows.  The tinkling of ice cubes in glasses, people laughing in the background. It was party time!

There has been a lot said and written about the commonalities of men and women gamblers and their differences.  For many men, it’s about being the “big shot”, showing off, taking a chance and winning big in some cases.  For many women, it’s more about escape and isolation. There’s one aspect, however, where this invisible dividing line blurs.  When I say I didn’t want to be a “big shot”, why then was it so important to me to use my “player’s card” at various casinos, and earn points so I could have the so-called “freebies” – like free room nights, free meals, free shows?  But more often than not, there’s no such thing as a “freebie.”

I remember about a year ago when I lost my whole paycheck at a locals casino.  A couple of days later I had no money, so my son and I went to the same casino and used some of my “points” to get a pizza in their Italian deli.  As we left, my son shouted out: “Thanks for the f____ing $1,000 pizza!” (Out of the mouths of slightly jaded babes!).

A funny thing about my style of playing is I didn’t want anyone to know if I hit a jackpot.  I wanted to just keep on playing – no congratulations or anything like that.  I was dead serious about this thing, and I didn’t want anything to interfere with my play.

Many times I sat there for 7 or 8 hours straight, without even taking a bathroom break. When I did, it was nearly impossible to make it without having an accident. So far I’ve concentrated on what I liked about being in the casinos.  What didn’t I like? Well, I didn’t like losing, and “chasing” my losses – or winning and yet not being able to quit until I’d put it all back. I didn’t like trying to get money out of a bank ATM machine, and being told “Unable to complete transaction”.

I didn’t like looking at myself in the bathroom mirror and seeing this strange, wild-eyed, with mussed up hair, confused and scared looking. Can you believe that even looking like this, some men actually “hit on me”?  I guess it was a matter of recognizing what they thought was “easy prey.” But I never resorted to that.  That was one of those “not yets.”  Not saying that it couldn’t have happened – just that it didn’t.

Worst of all, I hated coming home to anger and sadness, disappointment –my husband and my child looking forlorn and lost. What happened, Mommy?  Where was the pizza you said you’d bring home? Even when I had won, they usually weren’t that happy –unless I gave my husband some money so he could do what he wanted (gamble – or buy drugs), and get my son a new Play Station game or something like that, or say, “It’s OK, you don’t need to go to school today.”  He learned manipulation from the best teachers – me and his father.

I’ve managed to hit two milestones here while living in Las Vegas – of over a year “bet free”, but I never got much further than that. Looking back, I think it was because I thought I didn’t deserve any kind of success.  I was worthless. For the most part, I hadn’t really applied the 12 steps to my life –I just went on with it, usually as the martyr, until the pressure got so great and life looked so hopeless, that I had to go out and release my escape valve. All the pain and remorse of the past temporarily disappeared, in my pursuit of the fantasyland escape – the immediate fix, not thinking about the long-term effects.

The worst thing about living in Las Vegas and being a compulsive gambler is that the gambling is so accessible – you don’t even have to think twice about it – just hop in your car and go. Even the 7-11 around the corner has a few machines (although I liked to stick to the casino atmosphere as I mentioned above).  The best thing about living in Las Vegas and being a compulsive gambler is that there is ALL kinds of help – if you want it.

There are 24 hour GA (Gamblers Anonymous) meetings and people who know exactly what you’re going through.  I choose right now to stay in Las Vegas because I happen to love so many things about life here.  I especially am drawn to its history (yes, Las Vegas does have a history!) and I write about it at every opportunity.  I was excited in 2005 when this city celebrated its 100th anniversary.  It was Fantastic!

Is it stupid for me to remain here? Maybe so. Maybe not. One of my arguments is that gambling is available in just about any state now, and certainly in Europe. But the facts are, it isn’t as attractive to me anywhere else –not even “Reno or Laughlin” –certainly not “Atlantic City.” Something about being here in this jewel in the middle of the desert has me totally mesmerized and hypnotized. I look at the new games the casinos are offering – anything from ‘Betty Boop’ to ‘Austin Powers’ to the ‘Addams Family,’  and now ‘Popeye’ – and I wonder where it’s all leading.

It’s definitely luring kids, and I understand teenagers are being swept up by gambling – as much as drugs or alcohol. What’s the answer?

Blow up the casinos?

Make a new kind of prohibition? Probably not.

People will always seek their pleasures –in one form or another. They will be errant children. And some can get their pleasures in “safe” measures –not gambling more than they can afford, not becoming suicidal.

I don’t have anything really against gambling or drinking per say – I just know I can’t do it. Can I stay here in Las Vegas and fight my demons? Only time will tell, but I’m willing to give it another try.

(Judy wrote this in 2003 – “More has happened since then, but I’ll save that for another time.”)

Please visit and Purchase her Book Here on Las Vegas: The Fabulous First Century (NV) (Making of America) …. Author, Judy Dixon Gabaldon ~ aka: VEGAS JUDY

 

MARCH is Problem Gambling Awareness Month with My Friends at “The National Council on Problem Gambling.”

“MORE NOW Than ever we need to “Have The Conversation” about Problem Gambling.”  With the ever growing expansion of gambling options, now comes the risk of more people affected and may become problem gamblers. My mission for my blog is to educate, inform, help, and raise awareness of problem gambling and gambling addiction.

Here now is a message from my friends and hardworking advocates at “The National Council on Problem Gambling”….

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The National Council on Problem Gambling Goals:

 

March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month.  The 2017 PGAM theme is “Have the Conversation” and the goals of this national campaign are:

To increase public awareness of problem gambling and the availability of prevention, treatment & recovery services.

To encourage healthcare providers to screen clients for problem gambling.

PGAM is a grassroots campaign that depends on the participation of NCPG state Affiliate, organizational and individual members; state health agencies; gambling companies; recovery groups and a wide range of healthcare organizations and providers. 2017 is the 13th year for this event.

Groups across America hold conferences, air Public Service Announcements, provide counselor training, host screening days, insert paycheck stuffers, buy billboards and many other activities to provide thousands of hours of volunteer and community service. Calls to the NCPG National Helpline Network jump by an average of 30% in March, a measurable and meaningful nationwide impact.

Let us know what you are doing this month to help spread the message that compulsive gambling is a real issue that needs to be addressed. Email Sushmita at sushmitau@ncpgambling.org for any questions or updates on your activities. You can also interact with us on social media, where we will have daily updates about Problem Gambling Awareness Month! We are on Facebook and Twitter (@NCPGambling)

So please go connect with these fine folks and check all their resources!

Visit their Calendar for events happening in March and throughout the year! I am proud to work with them in advocacy throughout Social Media all year. They offer a wide range of programs to help many from becoming a problem or addicted gambler.

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One of their most valuable resources at the Councils website is, “Real Stories and Voices of Recovery” as Treatment Does Work!

Christine’s Story:


“Within six months after the big win, I realized I bit off more than I could chew. I had given back all the money, and more. I kept chasing that feeling of the huge win. […] In 2004, I started a business that quickly had financial success. I had so much money that I thought I’d never run out. But eventually, I couldn’t even come up with postage to ship a package. I started selling stolen goods to cover my losses and eventually ended up in prison on a mail fraud charge.”
(Read more about why Christine is candid about her addiction and how her life is today.)

 

Ann’s Story

The first time I gambled was at Mystic Lake with friends. It was simply a “let’s go out and do something fun” kind of thing. In fact, for many years I was a mere social gambler and assumed it would be like that for my entire life. I could go to Las Vegas to meet relatives and not even care if I gambled or not.

But then I had a personal life crisis and gambling became a way to forget everything that was going on. I realized that when I gambled, I didn’t have to be responsible to anyone. It became a way to escape my life’s problems and the rest of the world.

Before I knew it, I was going out to gamble every night. Then I started to have financial problems. And then I realized I couldn’t stop… nor did I want to stop. Every time I left the casino, I’d tell myself I was going to quit. Then when I got home I’d find more money to go back with.

Once I became hooked, it became my life. Gambling became my main source of entertainment. It was the only thing that I cared about. I’d cheat, steal and otherwise do whatever it took to get money.  But it was never about the money. I didn’t want to win money… it was a just a means to an end. Money had allowed me to hit more buttons so that I didn’t have to think about how screwed up my life was.
I engaged in unhealthy gambling for about three years. I spiraled downhill quickly. I lost my home, my cars, everything. I embezzled from my employer and was caught. That should have been the end of my gambling.

However, I continued to gamble from money I earned with a part-time job. I even remember gambling the night before I went to jail. That was when I finally stopped.

Part of my sentence required that I seek help, such as with a group like GA. I went to my very first gambling meeting at Club Recovery. I remember being so embarrassed to be there. But I got through it

Getting through the first meeting was the hardest. Even though it’s a meeting for those with gambling problems, nobody thinks that anyone has done anything worse than they have. You think you’re the absolute worst person.

When I think back on my recovery and my experience, I have learned a lot. For one, I realized that recovery is a choice. For the longest time, I didn’t think it was. I thought it was a matter of willpower.

Most people don’t understand the insatiable urge you have when you have an addiction. It almost feels like it’s an instinct to keep at an addiction. I’ve learned that you can get over the shame and guilt. Guilt is feeling bad about what you’ve done while shame is feeling bad about who you are.

I’ve learned a few other things. One is that you can’t beat yourself over the head to convince others as to why you’re addicted. People in my family have been so supportive of me but they still don’t understand how this can become an addiction. There comes a point when you just accept yourself and others.

You also realize that to conquer addiction you really need to put yourself first. That can be hard to do, particularly when you feel like you need to make amends to others, but you have to make peace with yourself before thinking about being in a full relationship with friends, families and an employer.

There is nothing more encouraging than listening to other peoples’ stories and their recoveries. As you hear them share their story, you learn that you’re not really a horrible person with no hope of recovery. You learn that you can fix yourself and become a whole person again…. that this addiction doesn’t have to define you.

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“LIKE ME, WE CAN RECOVER FROM THIS CUNNING ADDICTION CALLED GAMBLING.”

Author/Columnist, Catherine Townsend-Lyon

THIS Is My Story:

Addicted to Dimes (Confessions of a Liar and a Cheat)

$3.10
  (Click Here to Purchase )

 

 

“We Can Learn from Others Recovery Journey. A Little of Mine” . . . .

“When we do the inner work within ourselves and begin to clean out the “soul” is when our recovery really takes hold.”   ~Catherine Townsend-Lyon

“I am a dual-diagnosed person who lives in recovery from gambling addiction and has mental health challenges. It can make obtaining and stay in recovery a wee bit more work, as I discovered.”

My recovery journey first started in 2002 and reset in 2006. Both times I woke up in a hospital as the result of another failed suicide attempt and then went back to an addiction and mental health crisis center for a 14-day stay. In 2002 I was diagnosed with mental health disorders while in the middle of a full-blown gambling addiction. I was suffering from bipolar manic depression, PTSD, and OCD from past childhood trauma and abuse, and today, still manic depression and agoraphobia.

Then again in 2006, another breakdown, but this time the problem wasn’t that I gambled again and relapsed; the problem was not taking my psych medications for a few weeks. I thought I didn’t need them; that I could be “normal” like everyone else around me, but as you read my story, you’ll see that didn’t work out too well.

I had a few severe financial crises happen, and since I had not taken my medication and had depleted all of my savings, I panicked and chose to steal from someone. What a mess? No excuses, just insights. Of course, they pressed charges. I was arrested, went through the courts and was sentenced to many hours of community service, two years of probation and paid restitution that I’m still paying today. My point?

You have to do the work in all areas of your recovery, including your finances. Even though I was not gambling, my financial and legal troubles told me I still needed to work with a gambling addiction specialist. After my problems had occurred, I worked with a recovery expert for a year while I went through the legal mess I created. Why am I sharing this? Our stories and words of our “character defects” can be powerful tools to help others.

After my second suicide attempt and crisis, I learned I did not have a balanced recovery; and seemed had more work to do. I learned that God, my higher power, had bigger plans for me, a purpose for me that involves helping those reaching out for recovery. After I was released from the crisis center in 2006 and started working with a gambling/mental health specialist and got my mental health under control, I began to see the stigma surrounding those of us who live in recovery. Those of us who have a mental illness have a huge hurdle in our path.

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I am a dual-diagnosed person who lives in recovery and has mental health challenges. It can make obtaining recovery a wee bit more work, as I discovered. I had picked up nasty habits, behaviors, and diseased thinking within my addiction that needed more correcting. Working with the gambling specialist was eye opening. He helped me break down the cycle of the addiction, and we also worked with tools and skills for dealing with financial problems that may arise while in recovery. I’d been given a relapse prevention workbook, and although I didn’t relapse into gambling, the book has helped me develop a plan for any financial or life event that may arise during my recovery journey. You need a plan before life events come.

Another tool that helped was journaling every day. I have always done this, but my specialist showed me how to relieve stress and learn more from my journaling. My journals were a guide with help in writing my current published book. Writing my story and experiences in memoir form was a very healing process for me.

I shared my gambling addiction and alcohol abuse, my past childhood abuse and sexual trauma and what it is like living with mental illness. I never dreamed I would be a published author, recovery advocate, freelance writer and blogger, but these are just a few of the recovery blessings I have received in my journey thus far.

By publishing my book and sharing it with the world, I hope to shatter stigma around gambling addiction, recovery, and mental health. I want to be a voice for those who are childhood sex abuse survivors. Through my book and my recovery blog, I have chosen not to be anonymous. I want others to know how devastating compulsive gambling addiction is and how quickly one can become addicted when using it for all the wrong reasons. It truly is a real disease and illness. I want others to be informed and educated, and I raise awareness of the effects it has on our communities, family, and our lives. This also goes with mental health and those who suffer from its many forms.

The public needs to understand with the expansion of casinos and state lotteries, it is making gambling more and more accessible today and is now touching our youth. Currently, 1% of our population are problem gamblers. Through my recovery, I have learned many lessons.

The best advice I can give?

When starting recovery learn about this addiction. Work with a specialist or recovery coach to learn the “cycle” and then learn the tools and skills to interrupt it. Work a steady, balanced recovery that encompasses mind, body, spirit and finances. There are many ways to recover including in or outpatient treatment and 12-step meetings. Anything and everything you can find? Do it. Only one option may not be enough for success in long-term recovery. Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way in early recovery before that little “Lightbulb” above my head went off!

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Now that I have reached TEN years in recovery from gambling addiction and alcohol abuse, I know it is my job, my duty, to be of recovery service to others. Life today is good! My husband and I learned we can now weather any storm together. I’m proud that my book;
“Addicted to Dimes, Confessions of a Liar and a Cheat” has done so well and has opened doors for me to share what I have learned. I advocate and share as much as I can with others. It is to prove we can recover from this insidious addiction.

And I do this in many ways and many platforms, like “Keys To Recovery Newspaper” which is a free publication, Gambling Blogger at Addictionland” and for “In Recovery Magazine & Column The Author’s Cafe”. As we are now hearing more and more people today with “dual diagnosis” and seems to be more common.

With a high percentage of people relapsing after rehab or treatment, I wanted, and my readers asked me, to share how to attain the first year of recovery. I also share this on my recovery journal in blog form. So my second book I am working on now is about just that. How to make that first year in recovery. All I can urge others to do is never give up. You are worth a better life in recovery. Sharing our experiences and our recovery story with others is just as important as the professional or clinical side of how to recover. Sharing one’s story is a powerful tool for others to listen to and learn.

My last tip is to do something for your recovery each day like I do with writing and sharing my “testimony” anywhere I can to raise awareness and educate the public. It will help keep you in recovery, and you won’t ever become complacent in your journey. So, let me pose this question and open up a “Comments Dialogue” .  .  .

“What do you do to stay in RECOVERY”???

 

I wish you all a successful and learning recovery journey!

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Author/Columnist, Catherine Townsend-Lyon  🙂  XoXo

Guest Article About Gambling The Addiction & Our Addicted Brain.

ARE WE ONE STEP CLOSER TO A CURE?

Gambling addicts have ‘WEAKER’ brains – just like alcoholics and drug addicts, scientists discover

Experts at Imperial College London hope their discovery that gambling triggers two key areas of the brain, will lead to new treatments- 3rd January 2017

The Truth About Lottery Video Poker Machines. Guest Article. “Man Vs Machine”- National Week of Action From Predatory Gambling.

Hello Recovery Friends and Welcome All Visitors,

As this is “National Addiction and Recovery Month and National Week of Action Against Predatory Gambling” I want to share a Guest Article I read a while back that sheds light on a guy who caught “The Oregon Video Poker” machines trying to make players lose instead of winning a hand of poker from an electronic game. It also sheds light on just how BAD the “odds” are of a player winning. So this man took on the video poker machines! (Article Courtesy of  Willamette Week News Website .

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Video Lottery Game Zone

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“MAN Vs. MACHINE – A video poker machine dealt Justin Curzi a strange hand. Now he’s calling the Oregon Lottery’s bluff.” 

Updated March 4, 2015
Published March 4, 2015

Curzi, 35, had moved to Oregon in 2012 from San Francisco after selling a software company he’d helped found a decade earlier. He was fascinated with the games—the ubiquitous, flashing terminals found in bars, delis, and even pancake houses—and he played occasionally when out drinking with friends.

On this day—Jan. 10, 2014, a Friday—Curzi paused playing video poker while a pal went to get a beer. He used the break to study his hand—a 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7 of different suits. He was close to getting a straight, which would pay $5 on a $1 bet.

The game Curzi was playing, draw poker, allowed him to discard cards and get new ones from the dealer. He knew his best chance was to discard the 2 and hope the machine dealt him a 3 or an 8 to complete a straight.

But the machine suggested he do something Curzi thought strange: It recommended he discard the 7. He would get his straight only if he drew a 3. That would cut Curzi’s chances of winning by half—and he thought it was terrible advice.

“Hey, is this right?” Curzi asked his friend when he returned.

Curzi took out his iPhone and snapped photos of the screen and the machine’s serial number.

It was the first step to uncovering what he says is a $134 million scam by the Oregon Lottery.

 

Bad Advice

“Here’s how the video poker hand Justin Curzi got on Jan. 10, 2014, led him to investigate the Oregon Lottery machines.”

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Oregon voters approved the state lottery in 1984, and today state-run gambling contributes about $550 million a year to Oregon’s budget, behind only personal income taxes.

The lottery encourages dreams of riches. But the games are engineered to take your money. “Everyone should understand that the odds in all our games favor the lottery,” says Jack Roberts, Oregon Lottery director. That’s why news reports two months ago that a Portland man was suing the lottery to recoup video poker players’ losses struck some as ludicrous.

Who would sue over losing money while gambling?

But it’s not so simple. Curzi—who friends say is intelligent, analytical and obsessively curious—launched a personal investigation of Oregon video poker machines that led him to conclude the machines were cheating players out of millions of dollars every month. That’s why he filed a class-action lawsuit against the Oregon Lottery in Multnomah County Circuit Court, alleging fraud. Lottery officials deny Curzi’s allegations.

“Good for him,” says Les Bernal, national director of the advocacy group Stop Predatory Gambling, based in Washington, D.C. “What the Oregon Lottery does with these games is create the illusion that you have some control, where in reality you actually have far less.”

Curzi is aware some people might assume he’s suing to make money. He insists he’s not. “The real reason I’m doing this,” he says, “is because it’s outright wrong.”

“Justin is not afraid to jump at things, he’s not afraid to question things,” says Rob Steele, a friend of Curzi’s dating back to high school in New Jersey. “That is just catnip for Justin.”

Six days after his curious experience with the Jacks or Better game at Quimby’s, Curzi sent a polite and inquisitive email to the Oregon Lottery.

“Hello, my name is Justin,” he wrote on Jan. 16, 2014. “I’ve attached a photo of a hand that was given to me in one of your Oregon Lottery machines.” Curzi explained how he believed the video poker machine should have given him the best advice. “This does not seem to be the case,” he wrote.

Draw poker is a game of luck, strategy and second chances. The dealer gives players five cards. Players then get a chance to discard cards in the hopes of being dealt better ones.

When you’re playing poker around a table in real life, you’re betting against other players in hopes of having the best hand.

But in video poker, you’re not betting against anyone. Each hand costs you 25 cents (or more, if you increase your wager), and you win money based on a scale of how strong your hand is. A pair of jacks might win you your 25 cents back. A royal flush—the highest and rarest combination—would win you up to $600.

Unlike slot machines, video poker gives the player a sense that strategy matters. In reality, if you play long enough, the machines are geared to eventually take your money, no matter how many wins you record. Still, the sense that a player can outsmart the game is part of its allure.

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What caught Curzi’s attention was a feature on the draw poker games called “auto-hold.” The feature puts the word “hold” over cards it suggests players should keep. Players can reject the suggestions at any time.

But auto-hold has a second, less obvious function. It allows players to play faster because they don’t have to stop to think about what cards to hold before hitting the button to draw again. That’s important because faster play translates to more money for the Oregon Lottery.

Before he got a response from the lottery, Curzi returned to Quimby’s, wondering whether the game’s bad advice had only been a fluke. He shoved a $20 bill into a machine to play the same Jacks or Better game. Within 10 minutes, the game was again advising him to hold cards that cut his chances of winning in half. Curzi says he just wanted a simple explanation. “I certainly didn’t think,” he says, “I would discover what I know now.”

Who Plays Oregon Lottery Games?

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Curzi grew up as a sports-focused kid in small-town New Jersey, the son of a prominent lawyer and a stay-at-home mom. Curzi—who played football despite his small size—also wrestled, played baseball and graduated near the top of his high-school class. He played wide receiver at Amherst College, where he majored in economics and history. That led him to New York City after graduation.

“I thought the only two jobs on earth were investment banking and consulting,” he says now.

He landed his first job selling investments. Working on commission, he’d target an office building, climb to the top floor, then work his way down, knocking on doors. “I was 21, looking like I was 16, asking people to give me their money,” Curzi says. He soon climbed the monthly leader board. His boss told him he was one of the youngest salespeople to reach the top.

He wasn’t destined for a traditional job. A sticker on Curzi’s apartment door showed a group of people heading one direction, and one person walking the other way. “Routine,” it read. “The enemy!”

In 2003, he moved to Brazil and quickly immersed himself in the culture, teaching himself Portuguese within months. “You feel like the guy has been there two or three years,” says Ken Barrington, a college friend who visited him.

In Brazil, Curzi met an American computer programmer working on a way to help accountants share QuickBook files. The two teamed up and sold the program, cold-calling potential clients from Rio de Janeiro on an Internet phone line. “We must have sounded like we were speaking through tin cans,” Curzi says.

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They called the business Emocgila—mochila means “backpack” in Spanish and Portuguese—and it blossomed to 30 employees. In 2011, Curzi and his partner sold the company to Thomson Reuters in a private deal; Curzi declines to say for how much. But friends describe him as wealthy. “I’m not Elon Musk,” Curzi says of the co-founder of Tesla and PayPal.

Curzi moved to Portland in 2012 with his then-girlfriend (and now wife), who grew up in Tigard, and now lives in a $565,000 Victorian in Northwest Portland. He consults for private clients, provides microloans to entrepreneurs through the website Kiva and drives a 1996 Isuzu Rodeo “whose crowning feature is where a dog chewed the back seats.”

Friends say they are not surprised Curzi—who’s just as likely to want to discuss North Dakota’s fracking economy as the business model for Purringtons Cat Lounge—zeroed in on something as small and seemingly innocuous as a quirk in a video poker game.

“So many times in life, people just overlook the obvious,” Barrington says. “Justin has a knack for pointing those things out.”

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Marlene Meissner, a spokeswoman for the lottery, drafted a response. Auto-hold, she wrote, “is based on optimizing the player’s opportunity to win the best (highest prize) rather than simply increasing the odds of winning any prize.”

But, as Curzi later discovered, lottery officials guided Meissner to a different answer, so she revised her email before sending it. “In your case, the terminal did advise a strategy — granted not the only strategy — for you to have an opportunity to win with the cards you were dealt,” she said in her email to Curzi on Feb. 3.

In other words, the lottery was backing away from telling Curzi auto-hold offered the best option.

Curzi wasn’t satisfied. “I know your interpretation of the law is that you only have to suggest ‘a’ winning combination, but why not the best one?” he wrote in an email the next day.

The lottery’s response? “Crickets,” Curzi says.

Curzi turned to Jay Zollinger, a lawyer who had helped negotiate the sale of Curzi’s business. Zollinger suggested a public records request might turn up some answers.

On Feb. 20, 2014, Curzi and Zollinger formally asked the lottery for documents concerning the Jacks or Better game Curzi played at Quimby’s, plus any correspondence, studies and reports about auto-hold. The lottery responded on April 8, saying it would take 30 hours of staff time just to review the records Curzi requested. The lottery wanted a $2,350 deposit to cover its costs.

That fee would have stopped most people. But Curzi’s lawyer paid it. The total bill for records eventually came to $3,581.49.  Six months after his request, in August 2014, Curzi received the first of five batches of records.

By September, Curzi had hundreds of pages of emails, memos, and spreadsheets. He made a copy of the originals, arranging one set chronologically and the second by topic. He took notes on his laptop in a file that grew to 4,800 words.

Curzi came across a Feb. 2, 2009, email with a spreadsheet attached—”Video Lottery Game Payout Percentage Report.” The document had come from Gaming Laboratories International, an independent auditor based in New Jersey that works with many state lotteries to test machines.

The spreadsheet listed all the types of Oregon video poker machines by the manufacturer, the millions of games played in one-quarter of 2008 and how much money players spent.

In one column, the document showed what various video poker machines, based on calculations of probabilities, were expected to pay out to players over time.

In another column, the document showed what the machines were actually paying out. Curzi thought the payouts should have been very close to what the game’s programmers predicted.

Some weren’t. Curzi discovered the game he had been playing at Quimby’s, the Jacks or Better “Bluebird” terminal produced by WMS Gaming, was off by quite a bit.

The spreadsheet showed Jacks or Better on average should be paying out 90 cents for every $1 players put into the machine. It actually paid out about 87 cents.

That 3-cent difference may seem small, but when multiplied by the huge numbers of video poker games played, it translated to about $1.3 million per year that Jacks or Better wasn’t returning to players.

“This,” Curzi recalls thinking to himself, “is totally corrupt.”

He kept digging and made a second big discovery: Lottery officials knew about the discrepancy, and the auto-hold function on some machines was to blame.

“Due to the vendors’ auto-hold strategies, a few other poker games have actual payout percentages that are below theoretical,” Carole Hardy, the lottery’s then-assistant director for marketing, wrote on April 1, 2009. Curzi discovered a survey of video poker players the lottery commissioned from Mosak, a marketing research firm.

“Across all player types, the overwhelming majority of players said they prefer the auto-hold feature in video poker games as it makes it more convenient and easier to play,” a 2010 Mosak report said. “Players said this feature allows them to hold the correct cards, thus increasing their chances of winning.”

Curzi had only hoped to understand how auto-hold worked. He had instead discovered the lottery knew auto-hold sucked millions away from players—and players actually thought auto-hold helped them.

The lottery’s rules require “a close approximation of the odds of winning some prize for each game” and say those odds “must be displayed on a Video Lottery game terminal screen.”  Documents Curzi received show lottery officials debated whether or not they should tell players the actual odds if they relied on auto-hold.

In a memo labeled “confidential” and dated Sept. 15, 2009, lottery officials reported they had been studying their system to find video poker games that might be making payouts that were too high. Instead, they found machines whose payouts were too low.

“This triggered additional investigation regarding the integrity of the games,” the memo said. “Further, there was a question whether additional information should be provided to players to ensure they have accurate information regarding how video lottery games pay.”

The Sept. 15 memo also contained this nugget about WMS Gaming, maker of the game Curzi played at Quimby’s: “WMS has confirmed that the auto-hold strategy for all WMS poker games is set to pay out lower than the other products as a result of the auto-hold strategies WMS has implemented.”

Lottery officials, according to a separate 2009 memo, decided to put accurate auto-hold payouts on the Web. But Curzi went looking online, even using the Internet Archive search engine, to see if the lottery had ever made public the lower odds. He found no evidence it had. Over the next month, Curzi built a spreadsheet to estimate how much money the video poker machines, based on the odds, should have paid out, compared to what they actually did.

What he found startled him. Payouts to video lottery players were as much as 5 percent lower when they used auto-hold than when they didn’t. That translated to $134 million.

To Curzi, it was an outrageous discrepancy—especially given that players believed auto-hold helped them, and the lottery knew otherwise. Buried on the lottery’s website is one disclaimer: “Auto-hold strategies vary by game, based on the particular features of a game and do not necessarily result in theoretical payouts.”

Curzi says that’s not enough. The lottery is supposed to be based on chance. “You can’t manipulate the game,” he says.

In October 2014, he sent the Oregon Lottery a letter detailing his findings and notifying officials he intended to sue unless the lottery reimbursed players within 30 days. On Dec. 4, a claims management consultant in the state’s Department of Administrative Services wrote back to say the lottery was still investigating Curzi’s claims.

On Dec. 31, Curzi took the Oregon Lottery to court.

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Jack Roberts, the lottery director, took over the agency in December 2013, following years of controversy and accusations the agency wasn’t doing enough to address problem gambling. He had earlier served as state labor commissioner and ran in the Republican primary for governor in 2002.

Roberts says the lottery is fairly representing players’ chances. “Clearly the odds favor us,” he says. “That’s what gambling establishments are about, but we believe we’ve been honest in representing what they are.”

Roberts wasn’t around when the lottery introduced video poker and the auto-hold feature in 1992. “Our assumption has always been that on balance people who play auto-hold do better than people who don’t,” he says. “We don’t tell people that.”

He rejects Curzi’s allegation the lottery is intentionally misleading players. “I don’t think we’ve ever represented that the auto-hold gives you the optimal result,” he says. “The idea was that it gives you a good result.”

But records Curzi turned up show the opposite. “The machine recommends the best possible cards to hold in order for the player to win and if the player changes the cards to be held, the possibility of winning will decrease,” the Sept. 15, 2009, memo marked “confidential” reads.

Today, the lottery is in the process of replacing all 12,000 video lottery terminals in the state; it’s a routine technology update. But one consequence of the upgrade is that Oregon is completely phasing out the WMS Gaming “Bluebird” terminal on which Curzi played Jacks or Better. Roberts says Jacks or Better is being phased out because it’s unpopular with players. Roberts says the lottery is interested in finding out if more players are concerned about auto-hold.

“It gets complicated in the middle of litigation,” he says. “Any actions that we take might be interpreted as an admission that we don’t mean to say.”

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Experts on lotteries and the law say Curzi’s odds of winning in court seem low. Rob Carey, an Arizona class-action lawyer, took on several state lotteries over the deceptive practice of selling scratch-off tickets after the top prizes had already been awarded. Carey never succeeded in getting a class established for his lawsuits, but he did win payments for some plaintiffs and forced changes in state lottery practices.

He says Curzi’s case hinges on whether the Oregon Lottery’s public disclosures were adequate. “It really depends on what they’re telling the players,” Carey says.

The lottery could be safe even if the disclosures are vague. “You have to show the intent to defraud,” says I. Nelson Rose, a law professor at Whittier Law School in Southern California. “I don’t think they’ll be able to do that.”

Rose says it’s the machines’ manufacturers that should be worried.  “If the plaintiff were able to prove this was intentional,” he says, “that supplier could end up paying.”

Nevada-based Scientific Games, owner of WMS Gaming, the maker of the Jacks or Better game Curzi played, declined to answer WW‘s questions. “It is company policy not to comment on ongoing litigation,” Scientific Games spokeswoman Mollie Cole said in an email.

Curzi is undaunted. He wants players to recoup their money. He wants the lottery’s auto-hold feature to give good advice, and he wants the agency to give players honest information.

“It goes all the way back to that first photo,” he says of the photo he took of the video poker machine’s bum recommendation at Quimby’s last year. “I look at it and say, ‘That’s not right.”  .   .   .   .   .

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My own thoughts about The Oregon Lottery and the Retail places available everywhere? I had gotten hooked and was just one of several places around my town I gambled at. So when there IS “Excess to Access” you CAN become addicted.” Learn from my dear friend Ronda Hatefi and her brother’s suicide because of his Gambling Addiction & Could Not Stop!   “LET’S TALK ABOUT IT!”

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IF YOU NEED HELP From Gambling? Please Call TODAY .  .  .  .

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In Oregon:  call 1-877-MY-LIMIT (695-4648).
National Hotline:  call  1-800-522-4700 all days and hours for resources and referrals.
National Suicide Hotline: call Call  1-800-273-8255 24 hours a day.
For Family Help:  Gam-Anon: Family and friends of problem gamblers can find resources and a list of meetings at gam-anon.org or 718-352-1671.

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Author & In Recovery Magzine Columnist & Recovering Addicted Gambler 9-years 9months,
Catherine Townsend-Lyon


 

Welcome Michael Heath of Bloomberg News. Featured Article on Gambling Down Under.

Hello and Welcome Recovery Friends,

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“I happen to come across a very interesting article about Aussie’s and problem gambling. I was pretty shocked to say the least as I got deeper into this little article written by, Bloomberg News reporter and writer, Michael Heath. So I thought I would email him to ask permission to share it” as I know you will be as shocked as I am.  I know some about gambling problems in the UK, but didn’t know much about Australia.

Indeed I received a nice email back from Michael saying that he would like me to share it here on my Gambling Recovery Blog, so I am very honored to do so.
(Note: There are charts to this article which can be viewed on the original article here: Aussie Gamblers, World’s Biggest Losers, Go One Better  .  .

 

 Aussie Gamblers, World’s Biggest Losers, Go One Better.

 

Australia has the highest number of slot machines per person among developed countries after Italy.”
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Inside The MPI Gaming Teaching And Research Centre And Economy Images Ahead Of CPI Figures~ Photographer: Lam Yik Fei/Bloomberg ~

Australians, already the world’s biggest gamblers, are hitting a new record in 2015 as the equivalent of A$1,000 ($734) is lost by every man, woman and child Down Under.

In the 12 months through September, Australians frittered away  $24.1 BILLION on gambling. That’s an increase of 6 percent from a year earlier, more than double the expansion of the overall economy, which grew a below-average 2.5 percent over the same period.

Gambling Down Under has long been tolerated as part of the national character — best summed up in the line that Australians would bet on two flies crawling up a wall. But growth in wagering using foreign-based websites, along with widespread use of slot machines and casinos in each city, is drawing heightened scrutiny.

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The government estimates more than 400,000 Australians, mainly men, have gambling problems, out of a total of 23 million people. It commissioned former New South Wales state Premier Barry O’Farrell to investigate the use of offshore-based websites and wants a report this month on what could be done to curtail the negative social impact of new forms of gambling.

Australians are the biggest spenders on gambling, prompting an influx of international agencies to the country’s market, according to the latest figures from Global Betting and Gaming Consultants. It reckons the most money spent is not via the internet but through the widespread distribution of slot machines or pokies as they’re known in the country.

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Australia has the highest number of slot machines per person among developed countries after Italy, according to a 2014 report by Gaming Technologies Association. .  .  .

“It’s just so accessible for Australians,” said Craig James, a senior economist at the securities unit of Commonwealth Bank of Australia. “People don’t have to leave their homes. There are all sorts of things people can bet on. They can even bet on interest rates set by the Reserve Bank.”

Michael Heath is an Australian Economy Reporter — Bloomberg News ~ Michael’s work has been seen in – Bloomberg News, Yahoo, Bloomberg Businessweek, Sydney Morning Herald, National Post, Australian Financial Review, Business Day, The Star (South Africa) and 3 more, Spectator , Livemint , Salt Lake Tribune . . . He lives in Sydney, Australia.

You can follow him on Twitter  ~ @maheath1

“I wanted to add just a few more stats so we can see how America and the UK stack up to Aussie’s with problem or addicted gambling. I mean, let’s be real about this,  $24.1 Billion in one year? Wow! You know they are NOT making profits of your “once in a while gambler” no matter what country you live in. Now it has been rumored that Americans spend about $54 Billion which would be higher than Aussie’s, but I think that is not correct nor could I find researching a concrete number. Another site had this figure of $119 Billion for loss’s in the US, and had this to say as well:

“That’s a crazy amount of money; more money than Bill Gates has (with $72 billion) or Warren Buffett (with $58 billion), and only $11 billion less than the two men put together.

What intrigues me is the question of why so many people gamble. After all, everyone knows that the odds are stacked against gamblers, whether they’re betting on slot machines, horse racing, football, roulette, bingo, or lotteries. Even the games where it is possible for a highly skilled player to consistently make money — blackjack and poker — are big losers for the vast majority of players. And why do some players — problem gamblers, around 1.8 percent of the population— end up losing vast amounts of money, going into debt, and sometimes even losing their families and homes.” . . .   Now for me this is not a shock, why? Because some of negative consequences happened to me within my gambling addiction.

Now let me share what I found for our friends in the UK.  And this is the only concrete info I could find for our UK friends:

“UK Gamblers wagered a staggering £46billion on betting terminals last year – nearly 50 per cent up in four years.

Dubbed the ‘crack cocaine’ of the high street, the machines allow punters to lose up to £100 every 20 seconds. They have been linked to the laundering of drugs money and councils are trying to rein them in.

But Gambling Commission figures show that bookmakers raked in profits of £1.55billion”

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2517783/Britons-pump-46billion-year-gambling-machines-wagered-rising-nearly-50-years.html#ixzz3u7gKwzhS 
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

So there you go. You can see that the USA is not the only country that “has a gambling problem!” .  .  .

 

Catherine Townsend-Lyon, Author/Writer and Recovery Advocate of Gambling Addiction.

Product Details
(Click book to purchase on Amazon now)

 

“Keeping Gambling Addiction & Mental Health In The Headlines By Raising Awareness”

Hello and Welcome Recovery Friends,

 

Since my last post a few days ago, I found an interesting article about treating gambling disorder. It was shared on my good friends web site over at NCPGambling.org and written and posted in the MinnPost http://www.minnpost.com in there Mental Health & Addiction section. It’s one that has some good information about treating gambling addiction.
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So here is the article, and I hope all who visit will learn a little something they may not have known about gambling addiction. It’s hard enough to shatter stigma around it, so we need to inform and educate so maybe those who haven’t been touched by it, can understand and have a little more empathy for those who are afflicted by this destructive disease. It was NOT by choice to wake up one day and say, “I think I’ll blow my life apart by becoming an addicted gambler and alcohol abuser. Sometimes, there is something deeper underneath going on…
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To treat gambling disorder, you must dig a little deeper..