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The Busy Season for Compulsive Gamblers

NEWSDAY

Let Bob G. tell you about his lost weekend. It would be the stuff of a television sitcom if it wasn’t tragic. He’s “Bob G.” because that’s how compulsive gamblers who go to meetings refer to themselves.

Who knows what the victims who don’t go to meetings call themselves?

Bob G. is a successful broker on Wall Street. He calls himself a good one.

One thing he’s not good at is lying to himself. He used to be good at it.

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That’s the nature of the compulsive gambler. And this is the busy season, the National Football League season, building to the orgy of the Super Bowl. Just see the spread for Gerald Strine’s “Playing Football.” Or see the television betting advisers or hear them on radio. Of course, that’s just public service, telling people one team is 2 1/2 points better than the other.

Where do the rules tell how to score a half-point? I think it’s in the crossword puzzles: 2 Down, aid in a crime, four letters: a-b-e-t. Newspapers and electronic savants may just as well tell us which corners the hookers are working or which dumpsters are the offices of the best snow peddlers.

The published lines help us find the bargains like deciding which orange juice is the best attraction: Waldbaum’s or Pathmark’s. There ought to be a warning like on the cigarettes.

“How the gambler uses the line is orgasmic,” Bob G. said. “You see the line is 6 1/2 and you call your bookmaker. You say you’re going with the ‘dog and you get seven points, and you’re a winner already. It makes you feel how smart you are; look at all the other suckers who got 6 1/2 and I got seven. At times it’s better than sex.”

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Having action may be the bigger part of the high.

Bob G.'s weekend happened to be lost over baseball, but that really doesn’t matter. After all, Benson, another Gamblers Anonymous member, and his friends would watch bowling on TV, make up their own pin spreads and bet.

One of Bob G.'s best clients was getting married in the City and Bob G. booked a suite at the Plaza. Bob was keeping his betting secret from his wife then and this Friday afternoon she and the client, who happened to be a friend, stopped by the office to visit. Nice.

“It was the most annoying thing in the world,” Bob G. said. “I was going to go for the whole card -- 10 ballgames. How am I going to put those bets in?”

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The market closed at 4 o’clock and at 3:30 they left. “What a relief,” he said. “Getting the bets in is a thrill. You call and get busy signals, and you get through and it’s like you’ve won already.”

That night they went to dinner and a Broadway show and Bob G. didn’t hear any scores and couldn’t make a phone call. “I had to wait until morning,” he said. “Not knowing what’s going on is the most frustrating thing.”

When his wife got up to take a shower, he rushed to the phone. “I got blown away,” he recalled. “I lost everything.”

The line wasn’t available yet before going to the church on Fifth Avenue, so he said to the bookmaker, just give me the same as last night.

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Then the reception was at the Terrace at Butler Hall, up at Columbia University, and he couldn’t get to the phone because a lot of clients were around. From there they went to see “A Chorus Line” and went to get a bite to eat afterward. The tension was excruciating.

“So I tell my wife, ‘Honey, why don’t we let the clerk and his girlfriend stay in the suite, I’ll pick up the tab and we’ll go home.’ One of the things about being a compulsive gambler is you like to show yourself off as a power broker.

“But now again I can’t get a call through because it’s too late and I’m going through a real pain. I get up Sunday morning and I find out they all went down again and I’ve got to hurry to get bets in for Sunday. And I end up losing four grand that weekend. It was hell.”

Another time a client called during the reign of the A’s and said he wanted Oakland “500 times” laying 2-1. “My brain says this guy is a loser -- every time he bets he loses -- so I stuck it in my pocket,” Bob G. said. One of the first things admitted gamblers admit is that when they were gambling they thought they were smarter than the whole damn world.

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Benson tells of doing the equivalent with a $200 parley that would have returned $800. Benson said, “I took the money and bet the opposite. I thought he’d never win.”

But he won and Benson lost not only $200 of his money but he had to get up the $800 his friend won.

Back to Bob G. So Detroit beats Oakland, Bob G. said, “So I say, ‘Honey, we’re all going out to dinner.”’ Then there was the time he rushed to his wife’s bedside after emergency surgery that saved her life; he was in a rush because he needed her signature for a third mortgage so he could pay off he loan sharks.

He recalls the face of a friend on the floor of the Exchange who had been “pulverized” by his friendly shark.

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He’s heard tales on the hotline of the wife who complained the refrigerator was empty save for a turkey in the freezer and they had nothing to eat. “Whaddaya mean?” her husband said. “We can eat for days.”

Or of the fellow with $600 in his pocket in the dead of winter who brought home two gallons of heating oil in gas cans. He wouldn’t waste his gambling money but he could get up $3 and tell his wife, “Look at all I give you.”

One of the last shots, as Bob G. looks back, was the time he gave his football betting card to his 11-year-old son to change luck. “I walk in on him in front of the TV,” Bob G. said, “and my son is screaming at the TV because somebody fumbled. To see tle anger come out from an 11-year-old -- today I shudder at it.

“I see kids today who are in trouble at 14 and 15. You can go to any school and there are going to be bookmakers in high school or junior high. Inner city or in the best Long Island neighborhoods.”

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Dr. Sheila Blum runs the only in-patient program in New York State at South Oaks Hospital in Amityville. “It seems that the more our country accepts gambling, the more people are affected by pathological gambling,” she said. “You haven’t seen the governor of a state promoting drinking, have you?”


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