Milestone birthdays are often a rite of passage. For “Eddie,” about to turn the legal betting age of 18, this would be no exception.
It was late in the evening on July 16, 2002, and outside the Mystic Lake Casino Eddie and several friends waited anxiously for the clock to strike midnight. Eddie had already watched many of his friends celebrate their eighteenth birthdays at the casino, and he was excited that his day had finally come.
When midnight arrived, Eddie entered the casino, driver’s license in hand. Once inside, he went straight to the blackjack tables. As he placed his first bet on the table – two $1 chips – he immediately felt the excitement. The thrill was instantaneous – and lasting. Eddie played blackjack through the night, not leaving the casino until after sunrise.
“I fell in love when I got there and fell deeper in love with every bet,” says Eddie. “I won $97 that first night and thought I could come back and win $100 every night.”
Eddie was a frequent visitor to the casino for the remainder of the summer, only stopping when it was time to leave for college in Chicago. He returned the following summer and became a mainstay at the casino, playing blackjack five days a week. “That second summer I won more money than I’d ever made in my life. I was enjoying myself, and I was making money.”
Eddie was enthralled with the casino environment. “I liked the people, the sounds and the holding of chips and cards in my hands. It was an escape and a place where I felt liked.”
When Eddie returned to college in the fall of 2003, fresh off a full summer of gambling, he found it difficult to focus. “I started wishing I was gambling, and didn’t do well in school.” He dropped out so that he could return to Minnesota and resume gambling. “I thought the way for me to make money was to gamble.”
Instead, he began to lose money consistently. “I was financially destroyed,” recalls Eddie, now 27. “I began to write bad checks, lie and steal … I’d do anything I could do to get gambling money.”
Still, he was able to conceal the extent of his gambling. “While everyone knew that I gambled,” says Eddie, “they had no idea how much I bet, how long I spent at the casino, and how often I went.” Eddie would gamble for two days nonstop, go home to sleep, and then return to the casino for another day or two. “I binge gambled very frequently,” says Eddie.
Eddie’s behavior eventually became a great concern to family and friends. One day in September 2004, his parents and friends staged an intervention. That same night, he began packing to go to Granite Falls for inpatient treatment at Project Turnabout.
Initially, Eddie was very confused. “The concept of an illness called compulsive gambling – let alone that it was something I had – was something I’d never heard of,” says Eddie as he reflects back on the gradual realization that he had a gambling addiction. “I knew I gambled too much, but never thought of it as an illness.”
“I kept trying to convince myself that I was not a compulsive gambler even though I had all the symptoms. Eventually, though, I began to gradually accept that gambling was causing so many of the problems in my life.”
If Eddie’s time in therapy at Granite Falls helped convince him that he had an illness, it was the time afterward that really helped him heal. “The inpatient treatment broke ground, but the 12-step meeting really helped build my recovery,” says Eddie.
Eddie has not gambled since beginning treatment and considers the three crazed years of gambling as “back then” – almost a lifetime ago. He is immensely grateful that he learned about his illness – and began to deal with it – at such an early age. “A lot of people I see in the 12-step programs are in their 40s and 50s. If I were dealing with this for 20 years, I’m pretty sure it would have killed me.”