“It was a question of dying there or emigrating,” Miguel says. Twenty-three years ago, he fled El Salvador for political reasons, leaving his wife and children behind. He came to Canada where he worked for three years before he could bring them.
Even after they arrived, he worked hard to support his family. “I worked until midnight almost every night. One night my colleagues invited me to go with them to a casino when they finished work. I called my wife and she said ‘have a good time’.”
“I’d never been to a casino before,” he says. “At home, entertainment was fiestas and soccer. It was very exciting,” he says. He lost $80.
The late night casino visits continued. “At the beginning, I was losing $40 or $50 once every two weeks. Then it was every week. Then it was every day, losing as much as $700 at the slot machines.”
His wife tried to call a halt.
“We’re not rich people who can just throw away money,” she said.
But he kept gambling, often working two jobs to put together enough money to gamble, taking a line of credit, other loans and getting cash advances from his credit cards.
“My pay cheque was just going to pay my gambling debts,” he says.
When his wife received $10,000 in compensation for an accident, she thought he’d put the money in their savings account to be used as a down payment on a house. But he gambled it away.
In 15 years, Miguel won a couple of jackpots but the money always ended up back in the slot machines before the end of the night.
“I think it was the idea that I could win big that kept me going back. But when I did win, I just gambled that money away. I’d think ‘this is my lucky day’ and keep gambling. If you’re an out of control gambler, there never is a lucky day.”
Meanwhile, his wife remained patient and in the dark. She often believed he was working late when he was at the casino. And she didn’t know he’d lost their savings.
“That was my life. I missed family occasions, birthdays, everything because I wanted to play. I never stole, but other than that, I did everything I could to keep gambling including shifting money around to keep the household bills paid.”
Miguel’s wife tried repeatedly to get him to get help but he told her “help is for stupid people. I know what I’m doing.”
In fact, eventually Miguel was so much in debt and had told so many lies, that he had nowhere to go and no one to turn to.
He went to his wife and said “I’m sick. I need help. This is my last chance.”
He found counselling through COSTI and his wife stood by him, as she had through 15 years and losses of nearly $450,000.
“If I didn’t have my wife, I don’t think I could have made it. Now, I’ve recovered my wife and my children. And most important, I recovered myself.
“When I was gambling, I was always angry and upset. I couldn’t sleep for thinking about where I was going to get money for the next day’s gambling. Life is comfortable now. I go to the bank and there’s money in my account. All of my bills are paid. I’m very happy.”
COSTI’s Problem Gambling Service provides counseling in different languages for gamblers, as well as for family members and friends of the gambler. All services are free and confidential.
COSTI Immigrant Services:
416-244-7714 or 1-866-222-9993