We all know what Sunday is. It's the second-biggest potato chip day of the year, behind only the Fourth of July. It's Super Bowl Sunday.
It's the biggest gambling day of the year.
Monday is Oh Boy! Most of us can bet a buck a box at the neighborhood bar and walk away. Most of us can have wine with dinner, no problem. At the same time, we know of drinkers and addicts who've ruined their lives. Compulsive gamblers, same thing, but more sneaky without the telltale smell of alcohol or pot.
Surveys say 19 of 20 people can make a bet safely but 5 percent will have a severe problem. "In mental health," said Andy Meyers, chairman of psychology at the University of Memphis, "5 percent is an impactful number."
Dennis M. and his wife looked at and rejected 40 or 50 houses until they opened the door to this one cape with a center hallway. At the top of the stairs, Dennis could see a bathroom with a telephone on the wall. "It was like a golden halo filled the house; this was it," Dennis recalled. "I could get all my papers with the line, lock the door and make my bets."
Sounds funny. Dennis has been at Gamblers Anonymous for nine years and still feels pulled when his daughter flips channels and pauses at a game. When the Jets were in the 1998 AFC championship game in Denver, he saw the Jets were winning at the half and immediately computed that they were road underdogs who had a number of points to work with in the second half. "That process will never leave me," he said.
Dennis can't dare watch the New York Giants or New York Jets. Worse, he had to explain to his son, who blocked for Ron Dayne in high school, that they couldn't go to a game together. "We were both cheated out of one of the joys of life," Dennis said.
The layers peel off like an onion. People who haven't yet come to grips with the issue will recognize themselves. Dennis' wife loves Saturday morning flea markets. He had it figured that at 10:30, he'd be at the south end of the market and go to the men's room, where there was a phone, so he could place his bets. Somehow at about 3:30, he needed to stop for gas and he'd phone the bookmaker again.
He knew fates were against him. Such as the time he knew he was going to win $5,000 on a Super Bowl box and bought a round for the bar. Raul Allegre, who hadn't missed an extra point all year, kicked wide, and before the ball had settled, the bartender was there to collect.
Just before Dennis sought help, he was four points short of winning the over with Washington vs. Denver. "The only chance I had was for Tommy Maddox to throw an interception and Washington get a touchdown," Dennis said, "and lo and behold!" Washington intercepted and soon was within a foot of the goal. "I'm going to win a heavy bet," Dennis said. "They go to commercial at the two-minute warning and I'm dancing and happy. Then Joe Gibbs decides to be a gentleman and takes the knee three times. The game ends, and I lose. I stomp and scream, 'God doesn't want me to win.' "
Dennis was working his job, driving a taxi three or four nights and refereeing youth football and basketball and his wife wondered why they never had extra money. At that depth of addiction, he didn't care whether he won or lost, just that he had the rush of excitement. Professionals say that's how it gets. We know of the college student with losses he couldn't cover who bought a toy gun and got the cops to shoot him. "Gamblers leave notes," said Rocky D. of the Long Island branch of Gamblers Anonymous.
Newspapers, radio and television constantly promote the line, and, according to Arnie Wexler, my gambling expert, not one runs a phone number for people who want help. Wexler recently asked 31 baseball players on a campus in California if they had a gambling problem. "One kid jumps up and asks, where does he get help, he's destroying his life," Wexler said. "Then two others jump up. And a fourth says, If these guys go for help, I'm in big trouble. They've been paying for my tuition.' "
In the New York area, Gamblers Anonymous and Gamanon, the group for families of gamblers, have their own Super Sunday. It begins with breakfast in Babylon at 9 a.m. The group encourages families to visit other families, go to the movies or shop in the afternoon and then the Pasta Bowl in Staten Island beginning at game time.
For details, the Gamblers Anonymous Hotline is 631-586-7171. Gamanon is 631-321-2883. If you know you can't wait that long, call 800-LAST BET.
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service
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