He gambler's wife was married to The Gambler for nearly a year before he tried the yo-yo trick. They were living in Nevada then and going to the casinos every day.
The yo-yo trick works like this: You take a piece of clear nylon thread and some transparent tape and you tape the thread to a quarter, lining up the thread exactly down the middle, through the eagle's legs. Holding onto the thread, you dangle the quarter into a slot machine. Then you move the quarter just a tiny bit, so that the machine thinks you have deposited it."We would arrive with two quarters and just go from there," The Gambler's wife explains now, sitting in the living room of her home in South Jordan.
It was when she caught onto the yo-yo con that she first realized how much her husband was hooked on gambling. He was such a likable guy except for that, she says. "He was kind and gentle and compassionate, and when he smiled, you couldn't help yourself."
Eventually he was arrested. Over the years he has lost several jobs. His wife started three businesses of her own, but they were all sucked dry, she says, by his compulsion to spend whatever money they had - or didn't have - on poker and horses. She came home one day to find all her furniture gone. He had sold it to get enough money to get him through one more day.
"I've seen him drop $1,500 to $2,000 a week," she says. Over the 17 years they have been married, the losses have added up to probably half a million dollars, she guesses.
The Gambler's wife figures she and her children will probably lose her home soon and may have to go on welfare. Meanwhile, The Gambler has run off to Reno, where some days he wins a little but most days he adds to his losses.
If he doesn't come back by January and change his ways, she will divorce him.
"I'd give my life for this man," she says. It is a statement of devotion - and a prelude to something else, a new conviction she has about climbing out of the sinkhole The Gambler has pulled her into:
"But I won't follow him to hell."
You don't shoot it up and you don't drink it. Yet gambling can be as addictive as alcohol or any drug, says Dr. Gary Q. Jorgensen, who heads up the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Clinic at the University of Utah Hospital.
In fact, says Jorgensen, compulsive gambling "is one of the most difficult addictions to stop."
Addiction, it turns out, has less to do with dependency on a chemical than dependency on a feeling. After a drink or a hit - or a shake of the dice - an addict will feel a rush of pleasure. Or, if not pleasure, at least an infusion of emotional anesthesia to dull the pain of living. He will turn again and again to the drink or the hit or the dice, until sooner or later he chooses it over anything else in his life. By then, the rest of life has become simply an interruption.
An addictive personality, says Jorgensen, somehow can't find that same pleasure and relief from his family or a network of friends, or, most importantly, within himself.
Jorgensen's theory is that the compulsive gambler's childhood, like many alcoholics', was probably lived in a model modern American dysfunctional family. Instead of offering what a functional family should - physical and emotional safety - the addict's family may have taught him to distrust others and dislike himself.
Often depressed, anxious or both, the compulsive gambler then discovered somewhere along the line that gambling, at least, made him feel better.
Although one might assume that it is the thrill of winning that gives the compulsive gambler his high, gamblers themselves say that's not really it.
"The main thing is to be in action," explains D., a Salt Lake man who has been hooked on gambling since he played his first pinochle game when he was 15.
"The rush is better than any kind of drink," says D., who is also a recovering alcoholic. D. and two other men agreed to talk about their compulsive gambling on the condition that they remain anonymous.
When you're "in action," life has possibilities. Possibilities, unlike life itself - or even winning - have no down side, and make no demands. "I was on a $2,000 winning streak when it all fell apart for me emotionally," says D.
"When I'm winning, there's no juice."
Losing, on the other hand, offers an odd kind of hope. D. remembers driving home from Wendover one day after losing a considerable sum of money. He felt depressed, he recalls, but he also felt a rush when he began to figure out ways to make some money so he could get back in the action.
It is not necessary to go all the way to Nevada to find meaning in life, though. If you want to gamble in Salt Lake City, where of course gambling is illegal, you can find something within a 10-minute drive, say the three men.
"If you're a compulsive gambler, it doesn't take long at all."
D. and his two buddies know that it takes more than luck to keep a compulsive gambler away from a game.
Every Tuesday evening a dozen or so local recovering gamblers gather for a Gamblers Anonymous meeting at St. Mark's Hospital. It is patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous and its "12 Steps," but is directed specifically at compulsive gamblers.
According to the national office of Gamblers Anonymous, there are more than 10 million compulsive gamblers in the United States, and "more broken homes, suicides and imprisonments are due to compulsive gambling than from any other single source."
As with AA, there is also a support group for the family members of compulsive gamblers. Gam-Anon also meets Tuesdays at 7 p.m. at St. Mark's.
At Gamblers Anonymous, where gambling is treated as an illness rather than a vice, recovering gamblers engage in what they call "giving therapy." Members of the Salt Lake group are a cross-section of society, according to one member, and include women as well as men.
Letting go of compulsions isn't easy. D. says at first he just substituted another compulsive behavior, going to porno movies nearly every night. One of his friends has become a workaholic. Both are chain smokers.
As with alcoholism, recovering gamblers know that one little slip might be all it takes to erase months of restraint. With gambling, though, the temptations sometimes come disguised as something else.
The recent $50 million Monopoly Game at McDonald's, while just a diversion along with a bag of fries for some people, might set off a compulsive gambler.
"I said to myself, `When they're having this Monopoly game, `you're going to the Whopper,' " says D. "If I play games with that, I'm selling out what I've worked 2 1/2 years for."
Another compulsive gambler says he might go to McDonald's anyway. "I have to look in my heart and say, `Did I get a hamburger just to get a thrill or not?' I go by the feeling."
Many compulsive gamblers avoid the stock market. Some avoid raffles.
"Somebody says, `Do you want to buy a raffle ticket for a dollar?' and I say, `No, I'm not a gambler," explains one G.A. member. ` And they say, `That's not gambling.' And I say, `Maybe not for you, but it is for me. Here's the dollar, keep the ticket."
"I've quit gambling forever," he adds. "But one day at a time."
The gambler's wife has been to Gam-Anon, but The Gambler says he doesn't want to go to Gamblers Anonymous "and sit around watching people cry and hold hands."
He is still in Reno. He called the other night, in tears again. He promised that he will be coming home as soon as he wins big. But the Gambler's Wife has heard that one before. And she's not betting on it.