Dave recalls the day in 1976 when he sat in his office at his department store job in Nassau County and contemplated how to commit suicide.
Gambling had ruined his life.
He’d been married and divorced three times by the age of 39. He’d lost three jobs and nine ladies clothing stores he had inherited from his father. He’d missed the childhoods of his two sons — too consumed with betting on sports to even play catch with them.
That day in his office, he hit bottom. A co-worker came in, saw the suicide note, threw it in the garbage and told him he had to change his life.
Not long after, he went to his first Gamblers Anonymous meeting. That was the beginning of his new life.
Now 80, Dave believes a gambling addiction is at least as dangerous as one to alcohol or drugs.
“From 1961 to 1976, my life exploded,” said Dave, who didn’t want his last name used. “I didn’t know the word ‘responsibility.’ I didn’t know what it meant to be a father, a husband. Gambling was the only thing I knew.”
But perhaps surprisingly, Dave isn’t against a proposal to allow sports betting in New York State, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the federal government can’t regulate gambling in states.
The opportunities to gamble, he reasons, are everywhere right now.
“I’m capable of being out there tomorrow . . . if I choose to,” he said. “I know the places to go. I know the people to see.”
Dave’s addiction began at 16, in high school.
“I started gambling because it won me friends, got me accepted and got me liked in school,” he said.
The bets started small — nickels, dimes and quarters. He played penny ante, poker and blackjack. He flipped cards and pitched coins.
“In order to finance my gambling, I stole,” he said. “Wherever I went I stole. I baby-sat, I stole. I stole from my parents. I went to a friend’s house, a relative’s house, I stole. That financed my gambling for the next three, four years.”
Then, he said, “I discovered bookmakers, casinos, more ways to steal, more money to steal.”
At first, Dave gambled mostly on sports. He progressed to horse betting and finally casinos, which in those days required him flying to Las Vegas or out of the country.
“After I started to gamble, it was all about the action,” he said. “I loved the action. I never bet a lot of money, but I’d bet 50, 60 games on the weekend. And I just loved the action.
“I liked that last-of-the-ninth home run. I liked that last-second field goal. I loved the dice to stand on end before they fell over.”
Dave ignored his family. At one point, his wife left for California with their two young sons. He didn’t see them for 5 1⁄2 years.
“I love my two sons . . . but I never had time for them,” Dave said. “They’d walk in front of that television set, on a weekend,” while he was watching games he had bet on, and “I’d scream at my wife to get them out of the house.”
One day, Dave ran into a friend at an Islanders game who pointedly told him what he called “those magic words” — “You have to give up gambling.”
Dave responded that it would be like giving up breathing. But not long after, he found himself in his office, thinking about killing himself.
A couple of minutes after the co-worker crumpled up the suicide note, Dave called his friend from the Islanders game and asked where he could get help.
That New Year’s Eve, in 1976, he and the friend attended a Gamblers Anonymous meeting, at a church in Long Beach. One other person was there.
“What happened that night was that they promised me hope,” Dave said. “Now it is over 41 years later, my life is a little bit different.”
He still lives in Nassau County and is married for the fourth time. But this one has lasted 33 years. He is in close touch with his sons and doesn’t miss a thing with his nine grandchildren. And he’s still a regular at Gamblers Anonymous meetings.
The urge to gamble comes over him every so often, but he resists.
“I choose to wake up every morning with a desire not to gamble.”