How does a simple card game become a compulsion? For Melanie Morgan, it began with a winning hand of poker and ended with a vicious losing streak that almost destroyed her life.
Correspondent Troy Roberts reports.
Eleven years ago, Morgan was a successful journalist. She was a local television anchor in San Francisco and then an international radio reporter. She and her husband Jack were living happily in San Francisco.
Then her life began to unravel. Her husband got a job in Seattle as a radio station manager. It was his dream job, so he and Morgan decided to move.
Within three days of arriving in Seattle, Morgan suffered a miscarriage. "That was very hard," she says. I got very depressed. And I stayed depressed for a long time."
Without a job, she was also getting bored, her husband says. Adding to the stress, her husband's teen-age son from his first marriage, Greg, came to live with them.
Even Greg admits he was a handful. He resented his father's marriage and tried to sabotage it.
"Things were not going well," Morgan remembers. "Jack was working all the time - 16, 18 hours a day. And I was still reeling from the loss of my child. It was a disaster recipe."
With no job prospects and a lot of time on her hands, Morgan took up, of all things, bowling.
In a bowling alley, Morgan discovered card clubs - legal gambling rooms that are popular in Seattle.
Her first experience was intoxicating. "I dropped in after the league one Wednesday and immediately won $500 playing poker," Morgan says. "I felt like I was mainlining happiness."
At first, her husband was happy for Morgan "At times she'd come home and put $1,000 on the couch and say, 'We won,'" he says.
Then Morgan started spending all her time playing poker. Sometimes she would spend two days straight at the clubs.
She ran up $25,000 in credit card debt and was also going through cash. "I would stay here until they threw me out," Morgan says.
As far as her husband could see, though, Morgan was functioning. She even got a job as a TV anchor. But Morgan never stopped gambling.
Sometimes she would play all night and go straight to work. Because of this, Morgan says, she lost her job.
Soon after Morgan got pregnant again. She spent nearly her entire pregnancy in card rooms. Says Morgan: "I was in a terrible environment, [a] smoke-filled room, hardly taking care of myself. I was gambling right up until an hour before I gave birth."
After their baby son, CJ, was born, Morgan, who is now 42, swore that she would quit.
"I think Morgan really believed that the arrival of our child was going to change everything," her husband Jack says.
It didn't. Two weeks after giving birth, she started gambling again. She brought CJ with her to the clubs. "He would sleep, and I would play," she recalls.
"Then, when he would wake up and cry That was the worst part because people around you don't particularly appreciate a crying child," she says.
The cocktail waitresses and the other gamblers helped take care of him.
Her husband insisted that she stop bringing CJ to card games. So Morgan ordered her stepson Greg to babysit. Greg says that this was almost a daily occurrence.
By this time, Morgan was hiding from her husband. He put the baby in a car seat and drove around until he spotted his wife's car.
One night, her husband confronted Morgan with her son. "I put the baby in the car seat in the center of the round poker table on the green felt with the chips and the cards and everything surrounding my son," he says.
"And I looked at Morgan, and the other players were a little astonished. They're not used to seeing babies on the green felt," he says.
Sometimes he would bring the baby inside the card room and announce loudly, "Time to come home. Time to come home and be a mom and be my wife." It was, he says, "out of control."
One day, when Greg was looking after CJ, the baby wouldn't stop crying. He called her and asked her to come home.
She refused. Greg ended up slapping CJ hard in the face, leaving a large bruise.
A family doctor reported the bruise to child protective services, which ordered the couple to obtain family therapy. Morgan was told to quit gambling, or risk losing her baby.
"I risked everything that I had ever wanted in my entire life for a stupid card game," she says, crying at the memory.
To find out what happens next, read Morgan Takes Back Her Life.