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Betting the House

Barbara Bensoussan

For many people, social gambling is a harmless way to pass the time. But gambling can be more insidious — an addictive thrill that could ruin your life. Are you or your spouse a candidate for gambling addiction? Is it worth taking the risk to find out?

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Not so long ago, Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser received a call from a crying wife, married but a year. It wasn’t the typical shalom bayis phone call. Between sobs, Beth (names have been changed) related that she and her husband Eli had recently visited friends in Chicago for a simchah. Shortly afterwards, they got a call from their friends. “Yossi lost his wallet,” they said. “Did you by any chance see it anywhere?”

betting the houseNeither Beth nor her husband had any idea, and the subject got pushed to the back of their minds. Two weeks later, they spent a Shabbos at Beth’s parents’ house. When they came home on Sunday, Beth’s mother was on the phone. “Did anybody see my diamond ring?” she asked, panicked. “It disappeared this Shabbos. I’ve looked everywhere!”

Beth and Eli hadn’t seen the ring, and had no advice for Beth’s mom. It didn’t occur to Beth to see any connection between the two incidents until she happened to go to the bank one morning to take out some cash.

At the window, the teller pursed her lips and shook her head. “I can’t give it to you, honey,” she said. “You’ve only got $50 left in your account.”

The room swam before Beth’s eyes. “There must be a mistake!” she cried. “There was over $7,000 in that account!”

“There isn’t any more. Looks like the other party withdrew it all in the past two weeks.”

That night, Beth called her husband on the carpet to account for the missing money. He turned bright red. “I was hoping you wouldn’t find out,” he stammered. He told her he had taken the money for an urgent matter, and would soon replace it, and more. “I know what I’m doing,” he insisted.

Wanting to be a good wife, Beth decided to trust Eli, and let the matter drop. The next paycheck was due soon anyway. But as time passed, it became clear many bills had not been paid. Beth picked up her mail to find cutoff notices from the gas and electric companies. Suddenly it occurred to her that perhaps their friend’s wallet and her mother’s ring had met the same fate as the $7,000 in her bank account.

That’s when she called Rabbi Goldwasser, and dragged her husband in for a meeting. “Okay,” Eli finally admitted, “I gamble a little.” (“Like most gamblers,” Rabbi Goldwasser comments, “he tended to downplay the problem.”)

But as they spoke, it came out that Eli had borrowed money from the “wrong” kind of people, people who don’t take kindly to not being paid back. So he felt obliged to “lift” a few valuables.

“We began talking about gambling addiction, that he ought to get himself into counseling and connect with Gamblers Anonymous groups,” Rabbi Goldwasser relates. “But he wasn’t really convinced. As things got worse, though, he came in again, and we talked about the kinds of highs he got from gambling, and the aveiros it was leading him to do. Eventually he took his problem seriously, and got the right help. But that was after dragging his feet on it for a long time.”

What finally overcame his resistance to going for help? Was it his dire financial straits? The risk of destroying his marriage? Rabbi Goldwasser smiles. “No,” he says. “I got him to go to Gamblers Anonymous by betting him two to one he wouldn’t show up.”


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