In our new Tell Your Story series, we’ll be featuring stories of those who have experienced or have been impacted by problem gambling.
Joining the journey. Will’s story.
To my 10-year-old eyes, Foxwoods Resort Casino was majestic. I remember visiting after it opened. Walking in, you saw a statue of a Native American man pointing his bow and arrow to the sky. The atmosphere was flashy and exciting. My uncle was on the building’s construction crew. Even as a kid, I was proud to be a small part of the place.
At first, going to Foxwoods was a blast. My parents had recently divorced, and I’d go with my dad and sometimes, my grandfather. I had a seemingly bottomless cup of quarters to play at the arcade.
However, dad quickly found it tougher to leave. My grandfather and I would sit and wait for him to emerge from the blur of lights. Eventually, dad would come out. I’d be in tears from frustration and tiredness, and we’d go home. This waiting game started happening each time.
My father began making deals, saying he’d only play for an hour but couldn’t keep his promise. Sometimes, he’d cajole me into going to another local casino, Mohegan Sun, by buying us tickets for performances there: Maroon 5, Kid Rock, Coldplay. But I’d end up watching the concerts alone. Dad was nowhere to be found.
The bribes wore off. When I was old enough to stay home alone, I stopped going. But it didn’t matter to dad, and we started playing a scarier version of the waiting game. Dad would speed to the casino after work. After a few hours, I’d call to check in. He wouldn’t pick up his phone. I’d call the casino customer service line to reach him to no avail. It was worrying that I had no idea where he was, what he was doing, or when he’d come home. To this day, my stomach turns if he doesn’t pick up his phone.
When I went away for college, our relationship — and his relationship with gambling — continued to spiral downward. I gave dad an ultimatum after an embarrassing time when he, my roommate, and I saw Nickelback at Mohegan Sun. I called him and explained that his gambling had created a wedge between us. “If you keep going to gamble, I won’t be able to see you,” I said.
To this day, that call was the most difficult conversation I have ever had. But it jolted dad toward action: he didn’t want to lose me. We decided we’d go to the casino and put him on the voluntary self-exclusion lists in Connecticut on my next visit home: a five-year ban at Foxwoods and a lifetime ban at Mohegan Sun. He started going to counseling.
Voluntary self-exclusion was a tremendous step in the right direction. Yet when the five-year ban at Foxwoods expired, my dad had a recurrence. To say that I was mad was a gigantic understatement. He had put in all this work and in one night, had thrown that growth away! And now, he was asking for my support as he restarted his recovery!
I considered his request. My psychology coursework helped me come to a decision: we are all in this life together. It was as simple as that. I would be there for him, no matter what. He has had a few recurrences since then, but I don’t react the same way; I’m committed to raising awareness about problem gambling. The 10-year-old or 18-year-old me would never have expected to be on this journey. But I’m here.
And believe it or not, being the son of a problem gambler has supported my professional work. Today, I’m a high school math teacher. I strive to incorporate at least one discussion on gambling into the syllabus. Educating others destigmatizes the issue and provides a more comprehensive understanding.
The Mass. Council offers the training and resources I wished I would have been told about many years ago, calling the casinos’ customer services lines at all hours of the day. Their work focuses on the individual experience, and meets people where they are at, no questions asked. Their 24/7 LiveChat and GamLine (1-800-GAM-1234) offer around-the-clock support for those struggling and their loved ones. I encourage anyone with gambling-related questions to reach out. Knowledge is your untapped resource.