This commentary was written by Robin Rouse, a writer based in Newton.
I learned to count with pennies — poker pennies; my father's spoils from Grandma's Saturday night poker game.
On Sunday mornings the copper treasure awaited me in a worn canvas bag. My job was to make neat little stacks of 10 which my father would drop into a magical red paper tube. Gambling was a fun family game played for pennies.
When I was 6-years-old, we moved away from our family up north — to the south — and there were no more weekly games. Instead, a couple of times a year, Mom and Dad would take a cruise to the Islands where the main attraction was the casinos. They worked hard and felt they deserved a little fun. Gambling was a vacation.
After my mother died, my father moved to California to get a fresh start. He threw himself into his job. He worked every scrap of overtime he could, making more money than ever before. For the first time he had a pension and savings. He even set up college funds for my children. On the rare occasion he took a vacation, he went to Vegas, undeterred by the four-hour drive. Gambling was a distraction.
But, I became concerned about his gambling when I flew to California after he’d suffered a heart attack. I found his house and car littered with lottery tickets, as well as casino receipts for losses that exceeded my yearly income. When I expressed my concern to the family, no one seemed worried. He didn't go that often, they said, and after all, it was his money. Gambling was his hobby.
Eventually my father retired and moved to Florida — right down the street from a casino. I suspected he was spending a lot of time there because it wasn't long after he moved that the phone calls started — Dad asking to borrow money. Within a year of his retirement, he'd gambled away everything he had and some that he didn't: his pension, the college funds for my children, all of his savings. After he died, we learned he had also pawned everything that held any value: my mother's jewelry, his father's watch he loved dearly and his precious coin collection. Now we knew for sure — gambling was an addiction.
Whatever revenue the state of Florida made from the proceeds of my father's gambling could not come close to making a dent in what he took back in public assistance: housing, health care and food stamps, just to name a few.
It appears to me that the difference between a habit and a hobby is just a matter of miles. The closer gambling got to my father's backyard, the more quickly it moved from recreation to addiction — and because of that addiction, he died penniless.
Opposing Commentary: The Promise Of Jobs Makes Gambling A Worthy Bet
This program aired on April 16, 2010.