Commentary

Addicted to bad decisions

Updated: July 7, 2014, 12:45 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Once upon an unpleasant time, I was with a former big-drinking female who let me go and married some guy she had met at one of her Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

That made me so angry, I wrote a fictional scene about one of the Anonymous subgroups, Gamblers Anonymous, whereby that group staged a Casino Night and everybody brought real money and lost it, reinforcing the point that slots and the like were hazardous. At the end of the Casino Night learning experience, as everybody was getting his and her cash back, drinking punch and nodding at the evils of compulsion, thugs stomped in and stole all the money.

The point was, is, everything is something of a gamble.

An addiction is a harmful need. New addictions are constantly making the rounds, like the smartphone addiction shared by 12-year-olds and 40-year-olds alike. Generally speaking, sharing a compulsion with a 12-year-old is a questionable idea.

The gatherings where people confess to losing the baby pablum money are not called Horse Race Anonymous meetings. They're Gamblers Anonymous.

So maybe all the people losing only at the horse racing track are not addicts. Maybe they're just making bad bets.

Based on stories I heard with regard to the Casino Night scene, a gambling addiction usually involves more than one game or sport. Card players enjoy playing golf for thousands per hole. A casino junkie likely has a bet on "Monday Night Football."

Here's a good problem-gambler story.

A guy was down $5,000-plus at the end of the football season. He was behind $2,500 going into the last game, bet it all on the favorite and lost. He was despondent as he went over his numbers with his bookmaker.

"I can't believe that was the last football game of the year," the gambler said.

The bookmaker told him to cheer up, college and pro basketball started tomorrow.

"Basketball?" the gambler said. "What do I know about basketball?"

This is not to say that people who bet and lose only at horse races can't qualify as gambling addicts. Here are some signs that a horse-playing loser should take up a less expensive habit, like gardening:

1. Playing lots of tracks at once, as "action," is universally considered a serious warning sign.

2. Increasing the size of the wagers.

3. Guessing much more than necessary.

4. Losing all the time.

At some point in most if not all addictions, the wrong choice is made. You're standing in the middle of a vacant lot. To the right is home. To the left is trouble. You pick it, not your great-grandfather's genes on your mother's side. After a number of bad choices, many addictions become illnesses.

If you choose to lose money because at least a serious loss is a feeling, many are able to choose to quit gambling, or at least choose to quit losing so much.

A hobby costs a little something. An addiction costs a lot.

A losing horseplayer can get smarter by practicing the following:

Be aware that winning is a talent. It's a talent that you can pick up by learning from your mistakes. Stop making the same bad bets.

Bet less. You get the same exhilaration from betting $2 as you do from wagering more.

Bet smarter. Bet multiple-win propositions, pick 3's, 4's, etc.

Enjoy winning. Celebrate wins. Slot players sit there like mummies after winning $600 on a quarter spin. That's because only 15 more $600 wins and they'll be even.

Watch some races without betting. Focus on a single track.

There's no such thing as a sick winner.

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