The Other Side Of The Big Game

carousel, British adventurer and environmentalist David de Rothschild sails as the 'Plastiki' arrives at Sydney Harbour, completing the 12,860 kilometre journey from San Francisco to raise environmental awareness on July 26, 2010 in Sydney, Australia. CBS

One by one, they filed in for a Tuesday night meeting of Gamblers Anonymous.

One man wore an Eagles sweatshirt. One remembered the Super Bowl Sunday he spent babysitting his granddaughter, only to find himself with an uncontrollable urge to bet $10,000 on the game, 10 years after his last bet.

Then there was the newcomer, facing his first Super Bowl since he quit a lifelong addiction in which he bet up to $12,000 a game on the NFL.

"It's a tough week," he told the gathering. "It's the trifecta: We've got football, the Super Bowl and my favorite team playing."

For gambling addicts like these, the Super Bowl is anything but. The buildup can be even worse: It is a time to relive bad memories, to fight gnawing temptations, to avoid thinking about the event everyone seems to be talking about.

That's a difficult proposition, especially here - in a southern New Jersey community awash in Philadelphia Eagles fever. There are "Go Eagles" signs on cars, grocery store circulars advertising Super Bowl snacks and seemingly non-stop coverage of Terrell Owens' injury on radio and TV.

"They just have to ignore it, and it's really difficult in this area because of all the hype about the Eagles," said Harvey Fogel, a compulsive gambling counselor. "If they were in Minnesota, it wouldn't be that big a deal. It's worse here, there's more hype because of the Eagles."

The same is true in New England, where Patriots fans are immersed in the team's hunt for a third NFL title in four years. There, the game also is the subject of advertising, news media coverage, office pools and watercooler talk.

"Certainly, this is a hard time for folks in recovery from sports betting," said Marlene Warner, program director of the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling. "In particular, the media's hyping the Super Bowl, saying it's a dynasty here in New England and the Patriots are favored to win.

"It's kind of a 'We can't lose' attitude and I'm sure that's sending signals to people that it's a sure bet, that if you're going to bet, this is the time to do it. That starts thinking in people like, `Well, maybe this one time, I can do it,"' Warner said.

To recovering gamblers whose passion was sports betting, the Super Bowl means super temptation.

It is an opportunity to salvage a losing season, a chance to erase debts with one big victory - lots of chances, in fact: There are dozens of possible bets, including who wins the coin toss, whether the game's first punt will hit the ground or be caught cleanly and whether the reigning champs' point total will be an even number or an odd one.

Nevada sports books anticipate taking up to $100 million in legal bets on Sunday's game. Millions more dollars are expected to be wagered on the Internet.

Many others will bet with bookies who accept wagers on credit. All a gambler needs is a telephone or a computer.

"There's a romanticism to it," said one recovering sports bettor, a 41-year-old man from New England who asked that his name not be used. "You want to hear every nuance, every detail, every injury report. It's a whole thing. You're romantically connected to the sport and to the players."

And come Monday, the 1-800-GAMBLER helpline run by the New Jersey Council on Compulsive Gambling expects to see its annual spike, with bottomed-out gamblers seeking help. Typically, the lines see a 50 percent increase in calls in the week following the game, according to Ed Weed, who runs it.

"They say 'I've had it,' or 'I thought for sure so-and-so would win,' or 'I took the points,"' said Weed.

Others spend the week scrambling to raise money to pay their debts and end up calling for help the following week.

For the Gamblers Anonymous newcomer who placed his last bet in mid-November, this Super Sunday will be unlike any he can remember. Like others in his group, he did not want his name published.

"I'll watch the game and my family will have a pool and it's just normal for them. But not for me. I told myself I had to stop the insanity," he said.


By John Curran
  • John Esterbrook

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