Behind On His Rent, A Young Gambler Agrees to Give Up the Casino - Southern Maryland Headline News

Behind On His Rent, A Young Gambler Agrees to Give Up the Casino

This story is part of a series on the lottery and casinos in Maryland called "All In: Maryland's Big Bet on Gambling."

2014-OCT-20 Editor's Note: Since this story was published, the subject of the story contacted the author and requested that the story be removed so it would not impact his future career goals. As such, we have replace the person's real name with a fictitious name, "John Smith."


CATONSVILLE, Md.—By the beginning of the year, eight months after the Maryland Live! casino opened its table games, John Smith was four months behind on his share of rent and utilities for his Fells Point apartment. He had to ask his parents if he could move back home.

They agreed, with one condition.

“They said they’d let me move back in only if I went to some Gamblers Anonymous meetings,” Smith said.

It is something he had never thought would happen to him.

Smith, 25, who works as an assurance staff member at a CPA firm downtown, used to play Texas Hold ’em and poker on weeknights, betting money with his roommates. His group of friends frequented Cross Street Market during football season and Mother’s Federal Hill Grille and Stalking Horse on weekend nights.

But when Maryland Live! opened its 122 table games in April 2013, Smith and his friends started traveling down to the casino.

Plenty of bars were close by the tables, Smith said, and the alcohol helped fuel his gambling momentum.

“Usually I’d go with some downtown friends and we’d all drink a good amount,” he said, “so that didn’t slow down my spending at all.”

Smith says spending at the casino felt completely different from the spending at the Baltimore bars. Drink too much and you get physically sick and have to stop. But when spending at the casino tables, there was no signal to warn that you shouldn’t keep going.

Felt like sport

When he hit the tables, Smith said, he felt like he was just practicing a sport—not losing money.

“It was the kind of competitive feeling you get when you’re playing a pickup basketball game,” he said, “And when you lose, you just say to yourself, ‘We’ll get them next time.’ ”

He liked the risky atmosphere. “Sitting down at a card table and throwing $50 down makes you feel like you’re tangling with danger a little bit. The stupid part for me was that I craved that compulsiveness,” Smith said.

He was spending more than he knew. “What surprised me was how fast it all happened. I had no idea how much important money I was burning through until moving back home.”

Card games such as poker and Texas Hold ’em mostly appeal to Smith’s demographic—young, educated males—because they fall under the category of action gaming, which are games based on more skill than luck, according to Dr. Lia Nower.

Nower, the director of the Center for Gambling Studies at Rutgers University, has researched gambling, substance abuse and other addictive disorders. She said young, energetic and college-educated males are more prone to choose action games because it gives them a rush.

“These games allow them to use their wits,” Nower said. But “even if you are a skillful player, you are going to lose more than you win typically.”

The addiction is strong, Nower said, and recovery usually involves slips. “It is usually two steps forward and one step back,” she said. “It only works when a person’s motivation to change is stronger than their motivation to gamble.

Hasn’t gambled a cent

Nowadays, Smith’s typical week consists of going to work and nothing else—except for his Gamblers Anonymous meetings on his Thursday lunch hour. His brother Joe, 26, an information technology analyst, sometimes goes with him to meetings.

“Going to any kind of ‘anonymous’ meeting has to be pretty uncomfortable,” Joe said, “but our parents make him go, so I try to tag along sometimes.”

Smith misses the fun combination of drinking and cards and struggled the most when he first moved back home.

He goes to the bars with his friends every once in a while but says he has not gambled a cent since moving out of Fells Point.

“Having to tell my friends I’m moving back with my parents was embarrassing,” Smith said. “The more worse part was not telling my friends why.”

He eventually told his two roommates why he left. They said they understood. “They just didn’t want me to become broke enough to the point where they’d feel they’d have to float me,” he said.

Now, on Saturdays, Smith wakes up at about 9 a.m. to go grab fresh bagels for his parents. After breakfast, he hangs out around the house to see if there are any errands he can run or broken things to repair.

When he wasted his money, he says, that was his issue. He does not want to be a problem to himself or the people around him anymore. Now that he is back home, he wants to be an asset to his mother and father.

“Parents always know when their kid is in trouble, and I definitely was,” he said. “I owe them more than I can imagine.”

He is ashamed that he disappointed his parents when he had been an independent adult for three years.

“I knew they were thinking, ‘Here’s our 25-year-old son who isn’t responsible enough to live on his own,’ ” he said. “That’s worse than having no money.”

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