Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Author draws attention to Super Bowl's gambling problem

Arnie Wexler has been free of gambling since 1968, and wants to help others who struggled as he did.

ARNIE WEXLER will not watch a minute of Super Bowl XLIX. Not the anthem, sung in a crisp 2:03 by Idina Menzel. Not the coin toss, heads. Not the halftime show with Katy Perry, who will sing "Roar." Not the babbling-head, overinflated pregame, halftime, postgame shows.

Arnie Wexler is a recovering gambling addict and does not dare trigger feelings of temptation, even though the last bet he made was April 10, 1968.

"The Super Bowl to a recovering gambler," he grumbled, "is like New Year's Eve to a recovering alcoholic. I've been clean for 46 years, and let me tell you what happens when I'm watching the television news in Florida. They devote 15 seconds in sports to show the stretch run of the feature race that day.

"If I watch, I feel the old anxiety. Will the inside horse keep going? Will the outside horse go by him? Heart starts racing, palms get sweaty. Compulsive gambling is a sickness, and, right now, there is no cure for it."

Wexler, along with his wife Sheila, with help from former Newsday sports columnist Steve Jacobson, has written a terrific book about gambling addiction called "All Bets Are Off."

Perfect timing, with Super Bowl Sunday around the raucous corner, horns blaring, confetti flurrying, Jim Beam in attendance, bowls of guacamole, platters of cold cuts and a long, tempting list of proposition bets that will leave nothing but lint in your pockets.

"Let me tell you about what I did the winter of 1967, a couple of months before I finally stopped," Wexler says in that raspy New Yawk accent.

"I stepped into a phone booth in Queens. I called my bookmaker, Matty. I bet three NFL teams, a $3,600 round-robin. That's a $10,800 bet. I'm making $125 a week. If the call gets disconnected, I don't have a dime to call him back.

"He says, 'Arnie, don't make this bet if you don't have the money!' I say, 'I've got the money!'

"A compulsive gambler goes through three stages: winning, losing, desperation. And when he's desperate, he can't stop himself from doing something illegal. Me, I was in so deep, I was stealing every chance I got."

His marriage was a shambles, his reputation lower than a snake's belly, his mind an ominous powder keg of deceit, muddled by alcohol and the constant scramble for money to make his next desperate bet. He finally got scared straight, attended a 12-step recovery meeting, got hooked.

Now, the Wexlers run a toll-free national helpline 1-888-LAST-BET. They are consultants to Recovery Road, a Florida treatment facility for adults with chemical dependency and problem gambling.

The 12th step asks you to help others. It gets tougher on Super Bowl Sunday. There is no place to hide from the avalanche of betting lines, prop bets, hype and hoopla. Had Wexler heard about "Deflategate"?

"You'd have to be dead not to have heard about that," he grumbled. "To me, it's just more PR from the league, people talking about the game, reading about the game, watching everyone on television talking about the damn footballs."

Maybe, but the PR is negative and maybe gamblers will get turned off by the stink of possible cheating?

"Nah," Wexler sneered. "The compulsive gambler thinks he's smart, thinks he can figure out who has the edge. And, if there's cheating, he thinks he's gonna bet the side that's doing the cheating.

"When I was betting, we didn't have computers where you could bet online from your kitchen table. Only two states had lotteries, New Hampshire and New York. You had Las Vegas, and that was it. Now, almost everybody in America has a casino within 200 miles.

"There are people with the genes that lead to gambling addiction, who never gambled before. Now, give 'em the opportunity and there's a good chance they're gonna gamble. And what about the collateral damage - divorce, crime, unemployment, suicide?

"All these newspapers running all these betting lines. Bobby Knight once said, 'They're not running phone numbers and prices for prostitutes, so why are they running betting lines on college games?' And why not add a line, 'If you've got a gambling problem, call this help line.' "

So what's a recovering gambling addict to do on Super Bowl Sunday? An eloquent online article by Hugh C. McBride suggests spending the day with a friend, away from a television. Go see a movie, walk in the woods, take a long bike ride.

"We will hold a GA meeting at Methodist Hospital in South Philly at noon on Sunday," said Dave, who has been in recovery for 28 years. "It is a dangerous time. People who don't ordinarily bet are betting on the game.

"After all these years, I'm able to watch the game. No more screaming about missed field goals, dropped passes. No more grumbling about Seattle not kicking the point in overtime, win by 6 and you had Seattle minus 6 1/2!

"I can still remember Jerry Grote hitting a three-run homer, ninth inning, off Tug McGraw of all people. I had the Phillies. We're getting a lot more women in the program. They play the lotteries, they bet on the computer from home. It's different [from betting sports], but the damage it does to lives is the same."

So other Gamblers Anonymous groups will schedule meetings, recovering addicts will surround themselves with family and friends. And some will stay busy helping someone else and really feel good Sunday night.

Wexler won't watch the game, not for a minute. After XLVI bet-free years, he knows he must stay away from it. His phone will ring, he knows that. And one year, a moaning young man was pleading for help; he'd just blown $500 he didn't have.

"Couldn't wait for the game to start, for the action," he wailed. "So I bet on the coin toss and lost."