Gambling in Sobriety
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Gambling in Sobriety


gambling in sobrietyThe first time I went to Las Vegas, at four years of sobriety, I lost all the money I went to gamble with, plus the extra couple of hundred dollars I took out at The Mirage ATM. I got killed at the blackjack tables at every casino from The Mirage to the Toby Keith Blackjack tables at Harrah’s.

As soon as the wheels of my Southwest Airlines flight touched down at Burbank Airport, I went home to get a check from my mailbox and then raced my car to an AA meeting. Money had exposed itself as an addiction and what happened in Vegas flew home with me to Hollywood. I’d lost 99% of the bets I had placed and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

The day I got sober from drugs and alcohol, every other thing that felt good or validated me became the loudest voice in my head. Money is a classic addiction and ever since I’d gotten a job that didn’t pay minimum wage, I’d become 100% addicted to making the number on my bank account rise. I got a Caesar’s Palace golden money clip to hold 20s and the new 100-dollar bills. I’d stock my closet with wads of 20s hidden in beanies as my savings account. I didn’t trust Chase bank because I owed the cities of LA, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Burbank plenty for traffic violations and I’d found out the government could just go into my account and take the money.

A year went by and I couldn’t wait to gamble on college football. I’ve been a huge fan my whole life so I knew a thing or two about predicting the outcomes and scores of the games. My buddy had driven to Las Vegas and I landed three hours after buying my ticket on my iPhone. I met him at the Flamingo but this was nothing like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas‘ acid trip scenes. I was six years sober now and I arrived with a wad of 20s ready to multiply. It was an impulse trip but I wasn’t going to repeat my mistakes.

Ohio State lost to Michigan but I wasn’t about to gamble on that; my friend did and he thus was down before me. Oregon barely beat their in-state rival, Oregon State, but they won by more than 14 points so I won my bet. The University of Texas at San Antonio was only two years into their college football program but they beat Texas State at the Alamodome and I was on a roll. I was drinking free Red Bull after free Red Bull and chain smoking cigarettes at Caesar’s Palace, watching 50-foot TV screens as I stood between mega fans wearing their teams’ jerseys and Asian businessmen in Tom Ford suits. I felt higher than I had in six years. Every time the team I picked scored a touchdown and their defense shut down the opposing offense, I was amped up another notch towards superhero gambler status. My eyes were 1080i HD sharper, my hair went Brad Pitt thicker and I was an elite, jet-setting gambler in my mind. I was wearing jeans, a T-shirt and Nikes but I was already buying a vintage Ferrari in cash in my brain. At the time, I was waiting on word from a TV network to see if the pilot I was in was going to get picked up but by noon that day, my anxiety had vanished like fog.

I was on a real hot streak when I bet on Oklahoma. They won the game but they hadn’t beaten the spread over their rival Oklahoma State. Total depression consumed my heart. I felt like I had the day before I got sober and every day before that, my soul crushed like a bug on a dance floor. I’d only gone down a little bit and needed a pretty good Notre Dame football team to beat a very good USC. This was going to be tough, though.

What happened next sparked a year of obsession.

Notre Dame was a five-and-a-half point favorite to beat the Trojans and with 19 seconds left in the game. ND was up by nine. They were going to secure the win and beat them by more than the spread! This win was going to secure my weekend as a complete success. My alcoholism was boiling and I couldn’t think straight. ND was up by nine when USC got the ball with only 44 yards to the end zone.

USC was determined to put some points on the scoreboard for their hometown crowd. This would totally ruin my bet and all the casinos would win their bets and everyone that bet on Notre Dame would lose theirs. USC got to the 35-yard line and even with an easy field goal, they’d beat the spread and my alcoholic depression would kick in hundreds of miles away from home without a plane ticket to get back. But on third and one, USC’s QB Max Wittek got sacked and fumbled the ball, the game ended and I was a victor justified in my brand spanking new addiction. I was back!

I wouldn’t stop thinking about the feeling I had when Wittek got sacked and I was secured my money for another 365 days.

A year later, I drove to Vegas with my future fiancé and was excited for my road back to glory. My alcoholism was peaking and I was buying $1000-dollar dinners in my head while that stupid number on my Chase account was going to up even more. Baylor University was scoring over 50 points a game, which is almost as high as a basketball score at halftime. My plan was to put more than half my cash on the Baylor Bears and use the winnings to bet on the other games. The spread was three touchdowns and they won by less than one.

My weekend was off to an awful start and my beautiful date was subjected to my alcoholic depression. I felt like someone had spilled my drink and vacuumed up my cocaine. I lost game after game. I had a bad dinner at The Venetian and even lost my UCLA ticket. UCLA won their game and beat the spread and it was the only bet I won. I had to file a lost ticket claim with MGM Resorts and wait for my pathetic $100 check in the mail that would come six months later. I threw my wallet against the wall and wouldn’t walk away from the blackjack table when I was up over $500.

I drove back to LA, embarrassed in front of my girlfriend, knowing that I could never gamble again. I didn’t bet my pink slip or my kid’s college fund but I hit a bottom and knew the mental obsession I had was punishment enough for losing the bets. I’ve hit a million bottoms in sobriety and this one was no different. The feeling I had felt like a bullet to my gut; it was the same feeling I thought I’d sworn off the day I got sober.

And so I called a friend that I knew was sober from gambling and we worked the 12 steps on it. I had been through them before for alcohol, drugs and a lot of other things so it wasn’t as hard as I’d thought it would be.

One year later, I took my fiancé to Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. It’s her favorite hotel on the strip and she just wanted to lie by the pool and eat good food. I had a year off gambling. I enjoyed the wave pool and had a blast, walking Las Vegas Boulevard a free man while fully recognizing how nice it would be place a sports bet or play a hand of blackjack. But I simply relaxed.

Las Vegas has more to offer than gambling (not much, but there is more) and I’ve learned to appreciate new things about a city I thought I was banned from. Conquering my addiction and being humbled by it gave me self-esteem that I hadn’t remembered I could have. I’m now able to exit the 15 Freeway and spend 48 hours in Sin City without completely losing it.

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About Author

Carlos Herrera is a comedian, photographer and writer whose work can also be found on The Fix . He has been featured in LA Weekly and has performed at The Hollywood Improv among other places.