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Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010 03:54 pm

What video gambling did to me

Twenty-six years and eight months ago I walked into the Aloha to play my guitar and the songs that people liked. Everything was there that had been there the night before – the rice cooker, the Hawaiian figureheads, the piano bar, the jukebox, the cigarette machine. But at the end of the back bar there was a new addition. It was a cabinet with a TV-looking screen showing playing cards. This was my first sight of a “For Amusement Only” video gambling machine.

After I set up my guitar and made my arrangements for another night’s work, I made my way to this thing and was briefly told how it paid out, and what the hands were worth. Everything was explained except for what the machine might do to me.

In a day or two I began enjoying it. The thing took the money so fast if you didn’t hit something right away, so you had to ask for change to put more quarters in. I did, and the quarters were lost quickly. After you repeat that a few times, you have dug a hole. For some people, that would be it, they would walk away and find something else to do. But not me. You have my money, and I have to win it back.

Early into playing the poker machine I was playing a side gig every other Sunday at the Sheraton Inn, and I remember thinking to myself, “You just lost the extra money you’ve made.” I nearly stopped then, but the excitement of playing overruled my better judgment. I remember leaving the machine to walk to the guitar to play after losing a whole week’s pay. Sitting down, I strapped on the guitar and thought, “I’m playing for free now.” I’d stop for awhile, heal up, then start back again.

This cycle grew and grew. By the time I played my last song at the Aloha, I had lost approximately $33,000. I beat myself up daily now with non-stop regrets. Topping the list is why wasn’t I strong enough to say “no more.” To say you’re not having another penny of my money. No, I fell right into the trap, the trap that says you don’t have the option of stopping until you win your money back.

Before April of 1984 I lived in the black. I paid in cash or did without. I had no credit cards. I found friends to rent from so I could live cheaply. My thrills came from saving money. I built savings accounts with Germania Federal and Capitol bank, and had an IRA with A.G. Edwards, all with an annual income of less than $20,000. Keenly away of the price of things, I said no to drugs and everything else. Then came the poker machines. I’ve heard that poker machines are like the crack cocaine of all slots. It got to me. I wasn’t just having fun; I had to play.

I branched out to lottery tickets, then more “for amusement only” machines and Las Vegas, then added riverboats in 1995. All the time I was totally sick, but feeling like I was in control. Now I’m in total breakdown. Now I am sleep-affected and can’t concentrate on a TV program. I have lots of pain in place of my money. I have never been as happy since this pain entered my life. My hope of winning is gone. I’ve become something that never had to be – a totally trashed life.

I was going to have a heap of cash to show my mother for all my time here in Springfield. But I stopped to play a game.

E. Myles Ries III of Springfield is a full-time caregiver for his mother.

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