Gambling addiction is incredibly stigmatized in the legal profession. It is known as a “process disorder.” It is often accompanied by devastating results to legal careers, personal lives, and families if not dealt with early on. You only have to run a Google search to note that stealing from clients/trust account violations can accompany such issues.
For me, problem gambling always went hand in hand with drugs and alcohol. I would lose all my money, the anger and shame would be intense. I would chase my losses and looked at it as some “higher power” punishing me for all of my teenage and adult sins and the self-loathing of what I saw when I looked in the mirror.
Fortunately for me, the solution was to get out of Vegas and the anger and self-hate and desire to chase my losses would dissipate. When alcohol and cocaine were taken out of the picture in recovery and I as I worked on myself image, my desire to gamble decreased.
Wyatt is a second-year law student at an Eastern school. His experiences with gambling started at 12 years old. He says:
My buddies and I would hold poker tournaments and various other card games for money. As harmless as this may sound, it wasn’t. The feeling of winning a giant pot (probably $40 at the time) was captivating. The feeling of bluffing a pair of garbage cards to a win was addicting. And honestly, the money isn’t what hooks you… it’s the feeling of taking a risk and that risk paying off.
When Wyatt turned 21, his parents took him to a casino for the first time. He says:
I’ll never forget my first time at the casino. I sat at a two-dollar denomination slot machine, put one hundred dollars in and hit a jackpot worth $2,400.00. I was instantly hooked. So, what did I do the next week? I went back to the same casino (by myself), sat down at the same machine, and hit it again for $2,000.00. The first thing that popped into my head, “Boy, this is easy, why doesn’t everybody do this?”
Luckily, Wyatt was an athlete in college with very limited time and money on his hands. Once his gambling winnings were spent, he stopped going as often. Things didn’t get bad until his first year in law school. He says:
Law school is a challenging time. It changes the way that you think and the way that you act. It creates new stresses that you’ve never had to deal with. People choose to handle stress and anxiety in different ways. For me, I chose gambling.
I remember taking an Uber to the casino with about $400 on me for the third time that week. I was having a good week so far and didn’t see the harm in playing with the houses money. Except whenever the house got their money back, I went to the ATM. This is what we like to call chasing our losses. We lose, we take out more money and up the bet in order to recover our loss.
Long story short, the five grand that Wyatt had saved for law school was gone. He says, “I was absolutely sick to my stomach. The anxiety that I was gambling away came back ten times over once I was out of money. My grades during 1L fall weren’t very good and my anxiety was worse.”
Today, Wyatt is in his second year of law school. He says:
I still gamble. But I do it within my means. $25 bucks here and there on a college football game. No more 3am trips to the casino losing $400. What changed? I started working out and relieving stress in other ways. Also, I work two jobs clerking at two different law firms. I’m so busy that I don’t have the time or energy to even play. Law school can really stress you out and if you don’t have a healthy outlet, you’re in for a long and challenging three years.
Hopefully Wyatt will continue to relieve stress in healthy ways. I happen to know that his Dean of Students was also helpful to him in figuring it out. The next story illustrates what can happen if the problem is not dealt with early on.
Marty is a recovering compulsive gambler. He says: “While I haven’t made a bet in more than 37 years, I once found myself lost in the world of casinos and bookies and dwindling funds.”
Marty knew he wanted to become a lawyer at the age of nine. He aspired to become a criminal defense attorney like Spencer Tracy’s character in the movie Inherit the Wind, where he defended a teacher accused of the crime of teaching evolution. He says, “Because I did not have much money, my gambling hadn’t been a problem through college, law school, or my two-year stint serving in the army.”
Marty entered into a partnership with a few friends from law school and after a year or so, the practice shifted to real estate law. That proved to be much more lucrative. He says:
I was making excellent money; however, I began to become disgusted with the long hours. I searched for a way to blow off steam after stressful days and began to watch ball games. I found that they could not keep my interest without a small bet on the game. These small bets became medium bets which then escalated into ridiculous bets.
Marty went to Las Vegas with a group of friends. His casino host loved him because he lost plenty of money. He says:
It was not unusual for the hotel to “comp” me to a five-bedroom suite with two pool tables and the car of my choice in the garage. The gambling fed my ego and gave me a false sense of pride. I’m not sure what I was chasing or why I was chasing it. I had a beautiful wife and three amazing children who adored me a large home and a thriving practice.
Soon enough, however, family was pushed to the backseat as gambling took over every aspect of Marty’s life. He says:
At that point I didn’t understand that gambling was an addiction. Nor did I understand its progressive nature. I had the opportunity to stop at that point while having lost all of my savings There still was time for me to stop but I just could not bring myself to do it based upon my will power alone, the disease was too strong. I had been strangled by this addiction and I was struggling to breathe.
I didn’t have a gambling problem; I had a stopping problem. My life became very small and the gambling consumed much of my time at this point. It’s sadly a disease that hurts the ones we love the most. .
Marty had become numb to any feelings and even amongst the largest crowds felt all alone. He didn’t know that there was help out there. He says, “I was afraid to go to a Lawyer Assistance Program in fear of a lack of confidentiality. While gambling is socially acceptable, it is not something that a practicing lawyer wants to advertise for a variety of reasons.”
Marty was at a crossroads. At that point, he had only lost his own money, but soon began to borrow from others. He says, “I began to borrow from my trust accounts intending always to repay. That was of course the beginning of the end, By the end of 1980, I lost my house in foreclosure, my cars were picked up, and I surrendered my license. However, I still did not believe I was a compulsive gambler. That is the insidiousness of this disease and the level of denial I was in.”
Marty then took $50,000 to Atlantic City and within a very short amount of time he had lost it all. He says:
And just like that, I knew that that was the end. I moved into a hotel so my wife wouldn’t be bothered and planned on taking my life that night by way of an overdose of sleeping pills. My life had taken a dark turn and I wasn’t sure how to turn it around other than ending it.
That was when fate intervened. A member of Gamblers Anonymous called Marty and asked to talk after communicating with his wife. They spoke for 12 hours that day and he suggested that Marty go to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting the next day. He says, “It was on that following day that I developed a glimmer of hope. That was on June 2, 1980, and I have not made a bet since.”
Marty also served four-and-one-half half years in prison related to his gambling. He says:
Gamblers Anonymous and its members and Gamonon have been by my side and my wife’s side since. I paid off all of my very large restitution and other debts without missing a payment. My family has stayed with me throughout it all and I learned who my real friends were. I have been married for sixty-three years and have three children and five grandchildren who all love and respect me deeply. Over the last 37 years I have devoted my life to help people who, like me, were in a position without hope or a way out. It’s been a wonderful second act.
Finally, we have Andy’s story. Andy’s gambling did not take him down the path of trust funds and loss of licensure, but there was loss before redemption. He says:
For 15 years, I practiced law while at the same time feeding my gambling addiction on a daily basis. Since 2007 I have not placed a bet and have helped hundreds of people in many different states do the same.
Gambling was commonplace in Andy’s family. He started gambling at an early age. He had his Friday night card games with my friends. He says, “The first time we went to a casino my friends would want to leave and I stayed not knowing how I would get home.”
Thereafter Andy started feeling like he didn’t want to go with anyone to the track or the casino. He didn’t want anyone to see the relatively large amounts that he would be spending.
In law school there was not much gambling. He says:
I did well in law school writing for the law journal and thereafter passed the bar. Although I knew how to prepare for my law school exams and the bar exams this compulsive gambler was not prepared for the practice of law or life for that matter.
Andy interned at a large District Attorney’s Office. At lunchtime, he would bet on the horses. He says, “My character changed dramatically in the throes of my addiction. On one instance, I remember asking a dying relative to change the channel on his hospital TV set as there was a bowl game on and I had a bet on the game.”
After working at the DA’s Office, Andy worked at a small law firm. His gambling progressed as his income increased. He got married and went to Atlantic City for their honeymoon. He says, “After the honeymoon, my wife called Gamblers Anonymous realizing the extent of the problem.”
Despite going to Gamblers Anonymous in 1992, Andy would not stop gambling until 2007. He would take a two-hour lunches and drive to the track to get his daily double bets in. He says, “While at the law firm, I remember cashing my paycheck on a Friday and coming home to my wife with no money.”
Andy opened up his own firm. He had a lucrative practice, however, much of the excess money went to gambling, He says, “My clients loved me for the most part but I didn’t love myself. My gambling was a form of self-sabotage. I didn’t believe that I deserved a happy life. I gambled to escape from the stresses of life and practicing law.”
Andy found that his gambling would increase as a trial date would near. The idea of trying a case gave him a feeling of being out of control. He says:
I was full of fear and self-doubt. Good enough was not good enough. I had to prepare endlessly to cover all possible situations. I would play the part of the victim, feel sorry for myself and gamble.
What changed for Andy was a downturn in his practice in 2007, a downturn in the economy, and an increase in gambling to try to cover the difference. He says:
The result was my home going into foreclosure, my wife leaving with the kids, and the loss of respect of my son. Those events were my so-called bottom which allowed me to be open and willing to try something different and to let go of the old false pride.
Today, Andy is free today from the prison of addiction one day at a time. He says, “I am free to love, free to forgive, and not old grudges or resentments. My marriage is stronger than ever as well as my relationship with my son, who is also a lawyer. My life is simple and sweet today and my goal is to help others going through similar circumstances. I owe my life to Gamblers Anonymous.”
The way people gamble has changed a lot since the days of Marty, Andy’s days, and my days gambling, in which it was was pretty much brick and mortar. Andy says:
I see young people come into the program today and I get very emotional. Gambling is so socially acceptable and prevalent. The World Series of Poker on ESPN and online gambling have been glamorized to the point where we have many very intelligent young men come into the Program having spent their student loan money or maxed out their credit cards and feel like their life is over.
I reached out to the Texas Lawyers Assistance Program with regards to problem gambling. It does not take a psychologist to figure out that this is an issue that is incredibly shameful and stigmatizing, and a lawyer who is dealing with it is probably going to be much less likely to come forward for help than other “more accepted” issues like problem drinking, especially when client funds are at issue. Here is what the program’s director, Bree Buchanan had to say:
Like with alcohol and drugs, there is a strong stigma attached to having an addiction to gambling. Studies show that others view the gambler as being impulsive, irresponsible, greedy, untrustworthy and downright foolish. Lawyers Assistance Programs across the country will assist lawyers, law students and judges who are struggling with problem gambling.
If you are dealing with this issue or know a lawyer who is, here are some resources:
Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.