The Downside of Poker
A former actor shares his story of spiraling addiction.
Many years ago, the actor was a regular on a primetime series, and life was good. But when the show ended, he had to cope with a lot of free time and a great deal of anxiety. Texas hold 'em was a distraction especially suited to an actor. "In a game of poker, you become whatever character you need to be," he says. "The responsibilities of your everyday life go away. Your focus is on this game, and winning and getting the respect. … If you gain respect in a poker game, it gives you an edge. People will talk about the fact that you're a strong player."
But the friendly games "started to get bigger and bigger," and eventually the actors, producers and writers he found himself playing with had much more money to risk than he did. Still, he found it impossible to stop. There were days when he'd lie to his wife about having an audition or lunch meeting when he was really off for a game of hold 'em at Hollywood Park Casino. Once, he'd cashed his wife's paycheck to get into a game.
"It just feeds on itself," he says. "If you win, you cannot wait to win more. If you lose, you want to win the money back." At some point, he started to suspect that he was in over his head. "You convince yourself that as long as you're winning, it's OK," he says. "You keep a tally and do it in such a way that if the ledger gets discovered, it wouldn't be too incriminating."
In the mid-1990s, he called Gamblers Anonymous. "I think I've got a problem," he said. "I'd like to cut back. I'm gambling four days a week, and if I could cut down to three times a week, I'd be OK."
"You're not ready," the woman on the phone told him.
As with many addicts who overcome their habits, there was a bottoming-out moment. He'd been playing in a game in which $300 was a substantial loss and found himself down $960. "And I thought, I'm not losing $1,000 in a f--ing poker game," he remembers. He walked away -- only to find a $41 parking ticket on the windshield of his car. "It's a sign," he told himself. Though it's been 15 years since he has played poker, the rush of the game still tugs at him. He admits: "I think about going back all the time."