Saturday, July 01, 2006

I've received a couple of emails...

... the tenor of which has indicated to me that I should be more clear about what this blog is likely to be 'about.' In order to make that happen, it might be necessary to provide my small, committed readership some autobiographical detail. A little bit of flavor. All thr while, making efforts to retain some shred of anonymity.

I am between 26-32 years old.

I am male.

I attended and graduated from a prestigious liberal arts college on the East Coast.

I placed my first bet (on the NBA, as it turned out) in high school, with some little wanna-be mobster kid who ended up welching. He still owes me $35. $35 in 1993 dollars is probably something like $50 now, in 2006. That son on of a bitch.

I placed my first "real" bet on an internet sportsbook back in the summer of 1997, while still in college. I made a deposit of $300, via Western Union. I bet $30 per game on baseball, and watched the primitive scoreboards as though my life depended on it. I loved being in action. I couldn't buy a winner, it seemed. And I immediately reloaded whatever and whenever I could. Again, via Western Union. I didn't have a credit card, and debit cards hadn't really made it into the mainstream of American commerce yet. So I had to walk about 2 miles to the nearest Western Union outlet, which was housed at a supermarket. The clerks didn't know what to make of the short, bespectacled gentleman with the serious face who was sending cash to Antigua.

I haven't sat down to figure it out, but my best estimate is that I've lost approximately $150,000 gambling. I'll dedicate a future post to a breakdown of the numbers.

I was not joking about the teeth thing.

It's probably the least of my troubles right now, but it's something I'm reminded of every time I eat anything. Two of my bottom molars have essentially rotted away in my mouth, due to general neglect. The third tooth that's missing is all the way in the back. I used to have a crown on it, but that popped out around Christmas a couple of years ago while I was eating a piece of particularly chewy candy. I never bothered replacing it, because it was too expensive to do without proper medical insurance.

What's any of this got to do with being a compulsive gambler? Two things, as near as I can figure:

(1) First is, quite simply. that gambling to an unhealthy extend either causes or correlates to a general lack of interest in self-love, hygiene, and the like. It's not merely that gambling becomes the center of your universe, although that's undoubtedly true. It's that there is a certain ethos associated with the life of a gambler that doesn't recognize the value of taking small, imperceptible steps to take care of yourself. Like brushing your teeth. Washing behind your ears. Exercising. The only meaningful indicator of your health, of your self-worth, is whatever your account balance happens to be.

(2) Only a dentist would know that I've got these massive dental problems. I don't look at all like the cracked-out, snaggletoothed bums that you might see on the street. Similarly, I walked around the halls of my law school, ate lunch with friends, visited my folks for Thanksgiving -- and my gambling addiction was invisible to them all.

Welcome to The Luckiest One.

In 2002, I matriculated at an Ivy League law school. Four short years later, I've found myself in a large Midwestern city, without a law degree. Without a job. Missing three teeth. And approximately $91,000 in debt. I have alienated my friends and family. I have committed many crimes and idly contemplated committing many more. Told countless lies. How to explain this troubling reversal of fortune? Welcome to the entertaining world of online (and offline) gambling. Or "gaming", as it euphemistically called by those in the industry.

A point of clarification: This blog is not meant solely to be a broadside against the companies that profit from the recent synergy of gambling and the internet anymore than it is meant solely to be an exercise in self-flagellation for my utter lack of good judgment or willpower. Instead, I am writing this to tell people of my journey. It's mostly a cautionary tale. And perhaps it's one told in vain, given the fact that those who are most at risk are, if they're anything like me, quite adroit at the whole self-deceit thing.

That said, sometimes I will call out different gaming industry entities for what I believe to be outrageous conduct. But more often, I'll hold my own feet to the flame for having been an idiot. Impulsive. Greedy. Desperate.

The good news is that, as far as the scourge of gambling is concerned, there's more than enough guilt to go around.