Today: Feb 26, 2024

Author signs his book on battle with gambling addiction

Simone Virzi, Staff Writer:

He used to play poker hands in his head; he would imagine the cards, but today Joe Turbessi, author of “Into the Muck: How Poker Changed My Life,” said he no longer has a gambling addiction. 

“My grandfather taught me how to play poker when I was 7,” said Turbessi, 26. 

He said he played poker with his grandfather, betting small amounts of money, like pennies and nickels. 

“Of course, I would always ‘win,’” he said. 

As he got older, Turbessi said he was gambling more often, particularly in college.

“I lived on campus. You could do anything you want,” said Turbessi, a UCONN graduate with a degree in economics. “Gambling was so easily accessible.” 

Freshman and sophomore year, Turbessi said he was taking general education classes, and he “wasn’t being challenged; poker was so real and right in front of me.” 

Since Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods are a short drive from the Storrs campus, Turbessi said he would go there often. 

“I would leave the dorm around 2 a.m. when most people were sleeping,” said Turbessi. 

He said by leaving late at night, it was not as obvious of what he was doing. However, his gambling addiction took a toll on his life. 

“I lost friends, girlfriends, and my own respect,” said Turbessi.

His grandfather also had a gambling addiction. Turbessi said he remembers visiting his aging grandfather, who had lost interest in life. After spotting a pack of cards across the room Turbessi said he dealt 14 cards; seven to his grandfather and seven to himself. 

“His eyes lit up,” said Turbessi. “It was bittersweet. He cared so much about poker.” 

Turbessi said he has not won a game since his grandfather passed away on Aug. 18, 2009. Dec. 10, 2009 was the last day Turbessi said he gambled. 

“I lost $300 when I went to the casino; I had $301,” said Turbessi. 

He said he remembers going to the poker table that night. The dealer commented Turbessi’s first name and another player’s name made his last name.

“I hope this brings me luck,” Turbessi said he remembers saying before he lost. “It was weird; it was like slow-motion [that night].”

He said he recalls waking up in his Jeep in the parking garage at the casino with ATM receipts around him. 

Turbessi said that was when said he decided he had to stop. The dollar bill he did not spend has “finished” and “12/10/2009” written on it. It is on the cover of his book and is now framed, Turbessi said.

“My goal is to help at least one person realize [what you could lose] so they don’t have to go through what I did,” said Turbessi. “It is really important to recognize the threshold: from being fun to being exciting to being an issue.” 

Turbessi said he has lost approximately $40,000 from gambling.

Gambling Problem Gambling Awareness Week began March 6. Turbessi said he was upset to see ESPN was airing World Series of Poker; he sent the TV station an e-mail.

“Perhaps it’s time to stop ignoring how poker is being portrayed by ESPN and discuss the actual real ramifications of a life in the amateur poker world,” Turbessi said was included in the e-mail. “Not everyone is successful and more and more college students and young adults are becoming addicted.”

He said poker shown on TV is glamorized and those players often are not using their own money. Although ESPN aired gambling addiction prevention commercials, the commercials are not effective, Turbessi said.

“They’re not exciting commercials,” said Turbessi. “They’re so scripted and so fake.”

Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling is working with Turbessi because he has a powerful story, said Mary Drexler, assistant director for CCPG. 

Since there are two casinos in Connecticut, Drexler said it is important to make college students aware of gambling addiction.

According to ProblemGambling.org, “The level of gambling problems [among students surveyed at the 4 CSU’s] was 11.4 percent more than double the rate found for the general population 5.4 percent.”

Drexler said college students should be knowledgeable of how casinos work and that the chance of winning is minimal.

What people need to understand is that “a casino is a business set up for the house to win,” said Drexler. “The house is going to win 99.9 percent of the time.” 

Still, Drexler said some people do not know when to walk away from black jack, scratch tickets and slot machines. 

If someone is concerned about a friend or relative, there are signs to look for; including “borrowing money frequently to gamble, neglecting responsibilities, and not accepting losses and ‘chasing’ after lost money by further gambling,” said ProblemGambling.org. 

Some ethnicities are at a higher risk of having a gambling problem than others, said Liz McCall, a prevention educator for CCPG. 

Because it is a part of their culture, “Asians are at a high risk [of a gambling addiction],” said McCall. 

She said on the back of a fortune cookie there are ‘lucky numbers,’ which can be used to play the lottery. 

Athletes are also at a higher risk because “athletes crave action,” said McCall. 

People who choose to gamble can have fun while gambling responsibly, said Drexler. 

“Set a dollar limit. Identify a specific amount of money you can afford to lose and stop when that amount of money is gone,” said ProblemGambling.org. “Don’t use money needed for daily living expenses [rent, college money], don’t ‘chase’ losses and risk losing more money.”

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