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Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011 06:29 pm

A Former Compulsive Gambler Speaks Out, A Family Torn Apart

Groups warn gambling expansion would increase costs to society

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Jerry Prosapio’s gambling problems where well under way in the early 1980s when this picture was taken of him with his son, Brian.

Jerry Prosapio knew he was knee deep in his gambling addiction when the Las Vegas mob began tracing some of his family members in Chicago nearly 28 years ago.

A native of Crestwood, a south suburb of Chicago, Prosapio watched Springfield this week, and waited on an outcome to the gaming legislation, which has yet pass. The proposal would add slots to Chicago airports, a casino in Chicago for the first time in history as well as one in Park City, Rockford, suburban Cook County and Danville, could give the state a $1.3 billion boost and 50,000 expected new jobs.

The father of three knows that along with the possibilities to gain from the expansion, there are many chances to lose, and he has already played that hand.

Prosapio says he used to be “quite a compulsive gambler” in the early 1980s and is now a self-employed printing distributor with a faith-based ministry called gamblingexposed.org.

He was a recent newly wed in the early 1980s when he started gambling heavily and says the first couple years of marriage were rough. It got so bad that for a time, he couldn’t even be honest with his doctor, let alone his wife, Pat. Times became so desperate he says he couldn’t repay the loans he borrowed.

“This fella came to my house when I was at work,” he recalls.

The man showed up at the door and left a message with Jerry’s wife after the man saw their infant son, Brian.

“Tell him your son has a beautifully shaped head,” the man told his wife.

A man who gave Prosapio loans to feed his habit, later suggested that Prosapio call Al and Mary in Chicago if he needed money. The man was reminding him of the long arms of the mob and

As a teenager, Prosapio always played the older boys at poker because they betted more and he won more money. That led him into betting the horse track and sports games.    Jerry relocated to south central California for a business venture in his early 20s and recalls his first visit to a casino in Las Vegas at age 21.  He said he lost everything before he even made it to his hotel room. What he gained was a gambling addiction, one that crept up on him.

He says he was at the point where he was willing to do anything to get out of compulsive gambling when his son was 5 months old.

“I went from having 15 to 20 people working for me to not being able to sign my own checks,” he said.

Prosapio’s wife took over signed checks for their household and would give him a daily allowance to monitor how he spent the couple’s money.

Prosapio says was very troubled by votes leading up to gaming legislation that would add casinos in the south suburb where he lives with his wife, and said a passing vote would mean destruction for local communities.

“This would really blow the lid off,” he said.

Anita Bedell, executive director of Illinois Church Action on Alcohol & Addiction Problems, says she doesn’t think anyone starts out gambling with the thought that they will become addicted.

“It’s entertainment. It’s fun. They want to win,” she said. But adds that she hears from families across the state who deal gambling problems on a daily basis.

 While gaming legislation, SB 737, was not called to a vote in the House Tuesday evening, Rep. Lou Lang, a Democrat from Skokie, says he is committed to passing the bill sometime during the 97th General Assembly that was sworn in Wednesday.

When asked what he thought about how gambling expansion might affect families earlier in the week, he said: “If I had been convinced through appropriate evidence, that adding more places to gamble in a state that already has a lot of gambling, would increase social costs significantly or create more addictive gamblers, then I would think twice about the bill… But there isn’t any,” Lang said.

Jerry Prosapio in a recent photo of him and his wife Pat.


A Family Torn Apart

Robyn Block has no trouble remembering her life, but says it’s almost like remembering someone else’s.

The 49-year-old mother of two and resident of Cisne, a rural community near East St. Louis, is one of countless Illinois families faced with the realities of compulsive gambling.

“It seems like a different life to me,” she told Illinois Times in a phone interview from her residence in Cisne. The Illinois State coordinator for Students Against Destructive Decisions, whose office is in Springfield, says that gambling tore her family apart.

Her ex-husband, Carl’s gambling addiction spiraled out of control, leaving her to pick up the pieces for her and her family.

Block says he started making the hour drive from work to the riverboat casino in Alton or the casino in St. Louis in the early 1990s, where “He blew everything he made,” she said. He often drove home intoxicated, which landed him with three DUIs, a felony charge that led to jail time twice or three times, she said. And when he got out of jail, he cooked meth to feed his growing addiction, for which he is currently serving his second prison sentence.

She says her ex-husband would take out additional credit cards, and personal loans, and would sell things the former couple owned without asking her to feed his addictions.

“He sold my wedding ring to a pawn shop,” she said.

One day a man showed up to repossess her ex-husband’s van, but he defaulted on the loan.

For a time, he tried the Illinois Gaming Board self-exclusion program, available through the Illinois Council on Problem Gambling that allows individuals to “ban” themselves from casinos by placing their names on an exclusion list. Since it is not “policed” by anyone but himself, Block said, he could return to a casino and not be turned away. He even took out additional credit cards, and seven years later, Block says she doesn’t know if her credit score will ever recover.

As result of his addiction, Carl lost his job but also something more important – The ability to support his daughters, Randyl, now 23 and Casey, 22.

“He lost his family. He hasn’t really seen or talked with his girls in years. He was a really, really good dad and I feel bad for what they lost.”

Certified gambling addiction counselor Michael Goldman, who works in Chicago,
sees families torn apart by the addiction all the time.

“I see a lot of people married with kids who’ve lost their families,” he said and adds that the saddest thing is “loss of family ties.”

Goldman has counseled families and individuals dealing with gambling addiction for 22 years. He is a board member for the Illinois Council on Problem Gambling.

“I think that when you make gambling more accessible, the cost to society is going to skyrocket because you’re going to see an increase in the number of compulsive gamblers,” he said. “There’s a significant amount of people who don’t gamble because it’s not convenient for them. Make it accessible and they may.”

The benefits of job generation and economic growth still outweigh other potential drawbacks for sponsor Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan. Link called the bill a “win-win for Illinois, and said “I don’t see any drawback- I think it’s a positive concept we’re trying to do here.”

Contact Holly Dillemuth at hdillemuth@illinoistimes.com.

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