How To Cure An Addiction To Poker and Gambling

gambling chips

Those who are addicted to gambling have a much lower appreciation for money than most people. They either have too much money, so they throw it around like confetti, or have too little money and don’t realize how hard it is to make a valuable buck.

The last time I was on a cruise, I gambled 3 hours a night, every night on average. At the very least, I made sure my gambling activity did not interfere with my time with loved ones. In other words, I would gamble from midnight, after they fell asleep and play until 3 am. It was a blast, but I was always a little tired when I woke at 7:30am to eat breakfast and go on our excursions.

When I lost, I was visibly in a bad mood. I became short-tempered and didn’t put up with crap any more. People who meet me in person know that I’m pretty much always in a good mood. I’m a 100% straight-up optimist who tries to see the good in everything, and I mean everything. As a result, I didn’t like the man I became after losing at poker. The negativity was foreign to the people closest to me so I decided I had to figure out a way to stop.

BAD THINGS HAPPEN FOR A GOOD REASON

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being a full-blown junkie who takes a second mortgage to play craps, I was a 7 at the height of my poker craze in 2008. I’d drive to the card rooms after work and often times either skip dinner, or just eat at the poker table so I wouldn’t miss a hand. On weekends, I’d skip golf or tennis with friends to get 3 hours of poker in from 8am till 11am before lunch. I was hooked because of the competition.  I love the mental battle poker provides and the thrill of winning or losing it all.

7 out of 10 on the addiction scale is not good. I remember going to a card room at 8pm Friday night, and not leaving until 7am the next morning to go play a sleepy game of tennis at 8am! I only did this once, but once was all it took to realize perhaps I’ve got a problem.  Passing out at the table due to exhaustion was the second indication that I knew I had to dial it down. I laid my chin on my folded hands at the edge of the table and remember the dealer nudging me to check or fold.  When poker/gambling affects your work, health, and loved ones, you know you have a problem. I knew I had to change.

RATIONALIZATION IS EASY

So why do I give myself only a 7 out of 10 given what I’ve told you so far? First of all, it depends on what your scale is. I think the average person is a 4 on my scale.  Three points higher is a lot, but not a 2 standard deviation event or anything. Second, the amount I gambled relative to my income was relatively small, less than 1% of my monthly gross income.  My average buy-in was around $150-200, and I’d play at the $1-2 no-limit tables.  There are also $10-$20 no limit tables with average buy-ins of $3,000, with many people sitting with $10,000+ in chips.  Finally, I played 2-3X a week for a year, not much more.  There were plenty of winning sessions as there were losing sessions.

I always stayed on the smaller tables because I got the same thrill of winning an all-in $500 pot as I do an all-in $5,000 pot. Yet, the pain of losing was excruciating, especially if I thought I played well.  Being a 80% favorite to win the hand still means I will lose 20% of the time.  The pleasure / pain reward ratio is asymmetric. At least I understood myself in this regard.

I absolutely abhor playing anything other than poker. Games such as blackjack, paigow, roulette, craps, and baccarat are pure luck. I might play those games if I’m absolutely bored out of my mind and won some money in poker, but otherwise, I have no desire to play. There is no thrill of competing against the house, who has better odds every single hand. The thrill is outplaying an opponent. The most I’d ever gamble at a pure luck game was $200 compared to my willingness to play up to $1,000 in poker.

THE DOWNTURN

When the meltdown occurred in the fall of 2008, I cut back on frivolous spending along with millions of other people around the world. I stopped playing golf because it cost $70-80 a round on average and just focused on tennis. I also decided to no longer go to Lucky Chances Casino, 16 miles away because it took 30 minutes to get there and cost $10 bucks in gas and wear and tear. Remember, 2008-2009 was survival mode! I just stuck to weekly or bi-weekly home games in the city where there were no rakes.

The downturn was the exact catalyst for me to buckle down on my spending habits. But, I still kept on playing, just much less frequently. Then something happened in early 2009 that really changed my life and the way I viewed money. I started Financial Samurai!

THE REVIVAL AND REASONS NOT TO PLAY

Instead of spending 3 hours a session playing poker on average, I was now spending 3 hours often 7 days a week on my site. I couldn’t bare the thought of wasting time at the card rooms to win or lose $200 when I could be dedicating that time writing and getting to know the online community.

The next big thing I realized was how hard it is to make money online. I didn’t start the site to make money. Instead, the site served as a catharsis after the crisis. However, every blogger will realize after several months that they can make some money from their sites. Hence, I optimistically believed I could pull in several hundred a month after three months. Boy was I dead wrong! I think I maybe made like $15 bucks the first month and decided to scrap the idea of making money altogether. I just wanted to write and have fun. Whatever money I made would be donated to charity.

After about 6 months, advertising inquiries started rolling in but I still paid no attention since my hourly online wage was so pathetically low. I knew as soon as I focused on making money, my propensity to quit would increase. As a result, money was never a focus, but I was keenly aware of how little I was making for how much I was “working”.

I also wanted to spend more time with loved ones and friends.  Playing poker wasn’t directly hurting my relationships.  It just wasn’t allowing me enough time to develop them to levels that I wanted.

A DIFFERENT INCOME STREAM LEADS TO A PERCEPTION CHANGE

I love the feeling of being broke and I took on the mindset that my only income was from my online endeavors. I began working 30 hours a week online from 20 hours.  As a result, there was absolutely no way I’d ever, EVER risk gambling $200 in poker again, given all I made was $500 a month online!

If I lost $200 in one bad beat, that’s a full two week’s worth of work down the drain. My appreciation for money shot through the roof given I was working so hard for little return. No bloody way was I even going to go to close-by home games any more until I got my income up to at least $1,000 a month.

For one year after I started my site, I played only a couple times. Each time, I bought in for just $80-100 and would quit if I lost it all, which thankfully I did not. If it weren’t for Financial Samurai, I probably would have played at least 40 times in a 12-month period. Maybe I would have won, or maybe I would have lost. The point is, winning or losing hundreds of dollars was insignificant to my various income streams, but spending all that time away from friends, loved ones, and healthy activities is a serious negative.

ENLIGHTENMENT

Gambling can get out of hand if we don’t appreciate money. If you had to work 100 hours a week just to provide food on the table for your family of 4 with nothing left over, you sure as hell aren’t going to go gambling. I didn’t realize how hard it was to start a blog and stick with it over the long run until I tried for a year. Creating something from nothing saved me from increasing my addiction level of 7.

I 100% realize the allure of gambling. It’s thrilling and grabs a hold of you like a cuddly, de-clawed tiger. You forget how dangerous the fuzzy tiger is until you realize it has teeth that will rip your face off and leave you permanently broken.

I’d like to think that my addiction level is back down to a 5 – still higher than average, but certainly not out of control. I’ve only been to the card room once in 2 years, and I just play the occasional home game for fun if a client is hosting. Otherwise, I’d rather be home writing a post or watching a movie. I’m not making the mega-bucks yet online, but I’m having a good time trying!

HOW TO OVERCOME A GAMBLING ADDICTION

• Know yourself. If you have an addictive personality, stay away from casinos and near-by home games. Don’t even put yourself in the situation of getting hooked.

• Know how much you can lose. If you make $5,000 net a month and have $3,000 net in expenses, maybe you can afford to gamble with $200 of your $2,000 disposable income every month.  Gambling more than 10% of your disposable income is risky.

• Calculate your hourly income. Once you break down your income into an hourly rate, you make the gambling risk that much more tangible. If you only make $20 an hour, are you really willing to risk 10 hours of your life on gambling?

• Return to nothing. Either start something that will just break your balls trying to lift it off the ground, or really remember back when you had no money, or only made $3.5 an hour flipping burgers.

• Disassociate your main income. Don’t compare how much you are gambling to your main income. Instead, compare it to anything else, such as your passive income stream, which is likely much smaller.

* Don’t believe the hype.  You might think that the life of a professional poker player is alluring.  Just know that poker/gambling is a ZERO sum game.  You either win, or you lose.  Many professional poker players have gone bust before and resorted to borrowing money from their fellow professionals.  The real money is through sponsorship and owning a stake in companies such as Full Tilt Poker, which is currently being squeezed by the Feds.

• Call a professional. If nothing else helps, you need to talk to someone to knock some sense into you. It’s important to understand other gambler’s stories and hear what happens if you let things get out of control.  See www.gamblersanonymous.org.

Readers, if you’ve ever had a gambling problem, please share your story.  How were you able to restrain the urge?  If you feel you have a gambling problem, really try and break down your hourly wage after taxes to understand how difficult it is to make money the normal way.

Regards,

Sam

“Personal

Unconventional Guides

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Lance@MoneyLife&More June 18, 2012 at 6:24 am

I used to play a lot of online poker before the feds busted it up. I was living alone in a new state and the challenge was fun for me. I didn’t have much going on at the time so it was a fun way to pass the time. I got $5 free and only used that money. I was up to $120 at a high before falling to back around $40 when my girlfriend moved down after her graduation. I haven’t played since.

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PK June 18, 2012 at 8:33 am

I don’t think I’ve got a gambling problem, but I was curious whether you got into online poker in much the same way as you did live poker? I know online poker is much more ‘sterile’ than real life, and probably not as interesting, socially… but considering you can play more hands per hour I know some people who went down that path – and yes, I played a bit.

Laws have made it somewhat hard to play online in the United States, but I imagine this is something on which the prohibition will end in the not-too-distant future, making it an option again. Curious about your thoughts!

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Financial Samurai June 18, 2012 at 10:40 am

I got into online poker for about 2 months. Started w/ $200, made about $500, and lost it. Online poker is pointless to me at these stakes b/c when compared to the REAL casino of the stock markets and my Etrade account… that’s where the real money was being made or lost.

I like playing heads up online with friends though. Very fun!

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Jai Catalano June 18, 2012 at 6:31 pm

I lived in Atlantic City for 6 months doing a dance show. I got to live in the Tropicana Hotel and eat free food and get free drink tickets. The only draw back was that we were forbidden to gamble. I am glad they had that in my contract. I would have gone broke without a doubt.

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Financial Samurai June 19, 2012 at 7:42 am

That must have been a pretty exciting experience chilling in AC! I’ve been several times, and all I remember are grey skies and empty boardwalks peppered w seagulls. Kinda depressing actually.

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Edward Antrobus June 18, 2012 at 9:46 pm

I should show this to my roommate. He’s so broke he’s cell-phone service got shut off, but he probably blows $20 3-4 times per week playing poker.

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Financial Samurai June 19, 2012 at 8:08 am

Let me know what he says!

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Sydney June 19, 2012 at 12:18 am

One of the first steps to overcoming any addiction is realizing you have one in the first place. I’m glad you are doing much better now! I’ve never experienced a gambling addiction myself, but I was very addicted to TV and I understand how an addiction can totally take over your life. It’s a terrible feeling.

I have a coworker who plays a lot of poker and he lost out on a lot when the online games were shut down. He sounds like a decent player from the stories he tells and he always talks how he wants to go pro. It’s not an easy way to earn a living though, and as you said many professionals go belly up. I certainly wouldn’t be able to take the pressure!

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Financial Samurai June 19, 2012 at 7:41 am

Yeah, online poker was a growing real and big problem. I knew a bunch of people who were hooked as well. Easy to get money in, VERY difficult to get money out! As a result, most would just play until they lost it all!

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