Wednesday, December 17, 2014


I often joke that I'm addicted to fantasy sports. I'm currently in 5 fantasy football leagues, 3 baseball leagues (though I only truly care about one) and a hockey league. While I spend time scouring the free agent list, reading box scores and creating detailed draft plans (this last one is pretty funny in that my draft preparation is minimal, at best), fantasy sports don't take over my life like a true addiction. It's a hobby and something I do to stay in touch with friends. If you want to see a real addiction, this is an incredible story about my former friend/acquaintance Mike.

Mike is one of those people I knew growing up, but I don't remember how we met.* We didn't go to the same school or live in the same neighborhood. However, we attended several camps together and worked together as counselors at one. Mike went to Penn State and I had not heard about him in close to 20 years...until last week.

On Thursday, Deadspin had a story about Mike getting arrested at Charlotte International Airport "accused of attempting to scam at least five different passengers by giving them fake stories, and asking for $200 from each." Although I thought the spelling of his last name was incorrect in the story, the picture looked like how I thought Mike would look today. Soon, I found myself reading as much about Mike as I could find. It turns out that Mike is an addicted gambler with an insane, and extremely sad, story.

Back in June, Mike shared his story on the Two Plus Two poker message board. You really can spend hours here. Start on page 14 to hear from Mike himself.

I just now read through the whole thread and let me state this emphatically: Everything the initial op has stated is 100% true. I am not going to come on here and try to minimize anything or justify anything. I have a serious compulsive gambling addiction which i think it is safe to say, has ruined my life in so many ways. I really did graduate from Penn State in 1999 with a degree in Chemical Engineering and had the whole world at my feet. Instead of working hard at my job and doing things the right way, i chose to use any excuse to gamble and gamble and gamble and gamble. I became so compulsively addicted that not only did I get fired from various jobs as an engineer and a sales engineer, I also started getting a nice welcome to the criminal justice system because I was a degen who needed and wanted money to play.

I would also like to state that I am actually relieved that this thread was started because in all likelihood it would have happened eventually anyways. I promise to be open and answer any questions any of you 2+2ers have for me because since I have been an active participant in NVG for over 2 1/2 years, it is only right to do so.

I will now write a brief summary of what led up to me "hustling money" at airports(which will be in my next post soon) and if any good can come out of this thread I am hoping that I can eventually be forgiven and hope to turn my life around.

Unfortunately, we know that he's still hustling money at airports five months later.

Here's more:

I started getting really heavy into gambling right after I graduated from Penn State in 1999. I took a job with Dupont as a chem eng in Clinton Iowa(the middle of nowhere) and I absolutely hated it. I was super depressed and realized right away that there were 3 riverboat casinos within a 10 minute drive from my apartment. Before long I was calling in sick to work, gambling at these boats almost every hour of the day. I soon lost all my money, maxed out my new credit card and had to take out a loan from the credit union to pay my rent. Within 2 months I was fired and given a $7500 severance check(I was shocked, $7500 for 2 months of not showing up for work??) I told my parents what happened and they didn't understand any of this. They are both hard working people, how could they understand gambling/instant gratification lifestyles ,etc... My parents actually hired some financial planner for me in Iowa to manage the $7500 and told me to go to Gamblers Anonymous immediately. I did and at the same time was looking on for a new job in a better city. I was telling myself that I only went off the deep end gambling because I was in a boring place with a boring job. I wish that was why.

Found a new job around March 2000 with an industrial gas company in Irvine California. It was a sales job and they gave you a car and base salary was $50,000 plus 20-25k in commission. I also was given a gas credit card, laptop, cellphone and $5000 relocation bonus check. I thought my troubles were over. Well before I left Iowa I was told by GA members that I had to go to meetings in California or I would relapse. I wish I would have listened. I didn't go to any meetings and within 1 month I spotted all the LA card clubs and visited them all. Of course it was only a matter of time before I lost all of my money again and started writing bad checks. I learned a game called paigow at these places and it became my game of choice. Soon I had no money at all and I called my father begging him for a loan. I told him California was an expensive place to live and that I didn't have enough money to cover my rent. My father trusted me, wanted to believe me and wired me $6000. That money was gone in 2 hours. Soon after I was fired once again, the car taken away and was left with no job, no money and I didn't know what to do.

After I was fired, I was basically living in these casinos. Hollywood Park had at the time an upstairs "sleeping room" and if you played enough they would let you sleep upstairs. That place became my 2nd home and it was awful. I was desperate for money and after getting fired from my 2nd job, my parents and any other family members cut me off. I started calling a few of my good college friends, giving them any story I could think of and begging them for some money. They western unioned me a few thousand and all I did was gamble it away. My apartment complex in Irvine then told me they were starting eviction proceedings so I was so stressed I couldn't even think straight.

Around the end of September I was just walking around Hawaiian Gardens Casino when I was approached by these 2 black guys(not being racist, just mentioning they were black). They told me that they have seen me around a lot and asked me if I needed money. Needed money??? I heard that and I perked up real fast. Of course I needed money I told them. The 1 guy told me that he knew a guy who worked for a company and that he could get his hands on a few "big" checks made out to the company from certain vendors or something. He told me that his buddy could change the paid out name on the check to my name and that we could deposit the checks and split the money 3 ways. He asked me if I had a checking account and I told him yes. Basically he wanted me to deposit "altered" checks made payable to me in my bank account and withdraw money every day. Me being in total despair, desperate and not thinking clearly told him okay. He said even if they eventually catch on it would be years and that nothing would really happen to me. I don't know if I even thought of the consequences of all of this - all I thought of was how I could get my hands on thousands of dollars to play paigow with. So, within a few days I deposited $24,000 approximately of 4 altered checks into my bank account and started withdrawing the money. The 1st time I withdrew $6000 I believe and the next day I withdrew $4400. The 3rd day however, the bank got suspicious and stalled me while they called the police. When the police showed up those 2 guys who were always waiting in their car outside the bank were gone and I was arrested for 1 count(initially) of defrauding a financial institution. Welcome to my introduction to the criminal justice system.

There's just so much more. Mike won six figures on multiple occasions and lost it all, sometimes in just a matter of hours.

Oh, apparently he also knew Eric Garner:

On a much more somber note: when I was locked up in Rikers Island in March 2008 after not being able to pay my hotel bill for 3 weeks when I blew $150,000 at the pai-gow tiles table at Mohegan Sun Casino - I met a guy nicknamed BIG ERIC or Big E. He was 6 ft. 4" and weighed 280 at the time. He was an intimidating guy to look at but he was a gentle giant. He looked out for me in that hellhole, played poker with me and a few guys and was just a real nice guy.

Fast forward to 2009-2010 when I was in the 3rd and final program in Staten Island before I ran away and got sentenced to prison. Eric would hang out in this park by a bodega selling cigarettes. I ran into him and we chatted for a while. After that I would see him often and he was still as nice as ever, always with a smile on his face.

This morning I was reading the NY Daily News online and there he was, Big E, on the front page - 6 Staten Island cops tried to arrest him for selling cigarettes and 1 officer put him in a choke hold and killed him. They have the video online which I linked with his confrontation with the officers. It's just sad, he didn't deserve to be killed and there is a big investigation now.

RIP Big E. - puts this gambling, airport thing in a whole other perspective.

There's also a podcast about all of this.

This entire situation is sad. It's unlikely that he can turn to family or friends for support or help. It seems like he's burned those bridges years ago. There were a lot of folks on the message board encouraging Mike to stop gambling. Apparently, he can't. You hope he can turn his life around, but as of now, a happy ending doesn't seem likely.

* Update! It's always nice that my mom reads my blog. She let me know that Mike and I attended the same nursery school and even had play dates together as toddlers.


Bram Reichbaum said...

If you've had play-dates together as toddlers and you're writing this many words about him, you've got to help him.


Happy holidays, sport.

Sean said...

Bram - To be fair, I didn't write that many words. I just copied and pasted Mike's own words! Honestly, I'd have no idea how to help him. Based on his latest arrest, it seems like he's going to be back in jail for a while.

On that note, Happy Holidays to you too!