“Now, I don’t even think about it,” he said.
The group celebrates its 25th anniversary July 25. All of the last names of those interviewed for this story have been omitted for anonymity.
Steve hasn’t gambled since December of 2010. Before that, he said he gambled for about 45 years, betting on horses, sports and card games and going to casinos.
Steve said he has filed two personal bankruptcies, had two of his cars repossessed and saw the house he shared with his wife foreclosed on. He still didn’t want to stop gambling.
“I loved it — absolutely loved it,” he said.
Steve said he went to casinos when he lived in New York, where he got free meals for being a regular supporter of the venue.
“Free is the key word here,” he said. “It wasn’t free. That steak I had one night probably cost me $3,000.”
At one point, Steve’s wife insisted he get help. Steve told his wife he found a Gamblers Anonymous meeting but instead visited a small casino near his home every Wednesday.
“I’ll never forget the feeling that I had at that minute — that I lied again to her, and she’s proud of me,” he said. “That’s how I lost trust and respect.”
Steve actually started attending meetings in late 2010, after a year of living with his son in Durham, N.C. Even after being clean for a year, Steve’s wife left him.
“Later I understood that she didn’t leave me because I was gambling; she left because of the kind of person I had become,” he said. “We lie; we cheat; we steal. With or without it, it’s who you become.”
Bob, whose last bet was in October of 1970, said lying becomes a major part of a compulsive gambler’s life.
“The lying is pathological,” he said. “Especially in the beginning. The lie is like a game.”
Steve and Bob said most new members are 30 to 35 years old, and the large majority of members are men. The Chapel Hill chapter of Gamblers Anonymous attracts on average about eight members to every meeting.
They said younger, college-aged members usually only stay for a meeting or two.
According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, youth rates of being at risk for compulsive gambling are two to three times higher than adult rates, and about 6 percent of U.S. college students have a serious gambling problem.
Bob first gambled while stationed with the U.S. Marines in Hawaii for 22 months. When he was discharged from the Marines, he married his girlfriend and didn’t gamble for the next two-and-a-half years.
After taking a job at United Press International, Bob began gambling at the office on horse races. He lied to his wife about where the money was going and eventually pawned her wedding and engagement rings.
Bob started attending meetings in November of 1963 and gambled again in 1970. But he’s been clean ever since.
“God has been very good with his master plan,” he said.
New Gamblers Anonymous member Wanda has been homeless in the past, partly due to her gambling.
She said winning is not even the most alluring part of making a bet.
“It’s not even about winning. It’s about playing, and that’s very scary,” she said.
Call 919-460-9039 for more information about local Gamblers Anonymous meetings.