Michael and Hayley DiMarco, CEOs and founders of Hungry Planet, talk about Michael's descent into a gambling addiction and the felony that finally got his attention and turned his life around.
Michael and Hayley DiMarco, CEOs and founders of Hungry Planet, talk about Michael's descent into a gambling addiction and the felony that finally got his attention and turned his life around.
Bob: Have you ever wondered how someone becomes a compulsive gambler?—how it becomes an addiction? Here are some thoughts on that subject from former compulsive gambler, Michael DiMarco.
Michael: Gambling was my "blankey"—I was like Linus. I had that blanket that I took around everywhere. There came a point in life, you know—you can't really go into the corporate boardroom, dragging around your blankey; you know? You have to give it up, at some point. It's an interesting analogy that—I think Christ takes our crutches / takes our addictions—takes—He wants to take our blankey, and take that away, and say, "You don't need that anymore."
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, January 2nd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We will hear today about Michael DiMarco's path back from his time as a compulsive gambler. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. I’ve already shared a true confession, this week, about going to a casino and losing all my money.
I have a—this is the more virtuous confession I have to make—I have never, in my life, bought a lottery ticket at a convenience store or anyplace else. The reason is because I am convinced, that if I bought a lottery ticket tomorrow,—
Dennis: You'd win.
Bob: —I would win the big jackpot. The headline in the paper would be: "Christian Radio Host Wins $17 million in Powerball Lottery"; and then I'd be sunk.
Dennis: In fact, we have a story to tell you today that is really Part Two of a story we started, earlier this week, with Michael and Hayley DiMarco. Welcome back to the broadcast.
Michael: Yes, it's great being back.
Dennis: Michael has written a book called All In. It talks about, among other things, his addictive compulsive behavior of gambling. We talked about earlier how you sat down at a table and won all this money, playing blackjack—and enjoyed it so much you became dehydrated, got up, fainted, spilled your chips all over the floor.
You know, what I wanted to ask you, though, at the end of that story—because you started talking about how you were gambling every day—and you shared how you were a volleyball coach.
Dennis: Now, we all know volleyball coaches make hundreds of thousands of dollars every year—so that explains where you got all the money to be able to gamble every day; right?
Michael: Well, that and the lucrative television deals that you have. [Laughter]
Dennis: Where were you getting the money to gamble, Michael?
Michael: Well, at first, it was, as I mentioned, I won—I won a lot of money. But then, as odds tend to catch up to you, I lost. As I was losing money, I would wait for my paycheck to come so that I would have enough money—or I'd have money to go gamble again.
I gambled pretty much every day I had money. At first, that was like every two weeks, or I might put off paying a few bills and stretch myself; but I'd pay my rent, and the light bill, and have gas, and food, and things like that.
But, after a while, I didn't need food anymore because I knew the casinos would buy my food as soon as I walked in the door. You know, it was like a scene from Cheers. Instead of "Norm," they'd say "Michael." All of a sudden, the casino turned up their lights a little brighter because they knew they were going to be able to pay a little bit more energy bill that night because I had come to gamble.
But as the losing streak and as the compulsion turned from, really, what started as a semi-skilled—and I use that phrase loosely—a semi-skilled gambler, where I was actually trying to win. When it became a compulsion—where it really didn't matter as much whether I won or not—I was just trying to escape my life. I was searching for something—I was searching for peace. For some reason I thought I could find it in a casino.
As that money ran out, I started to get, as most compulsive gamblers do—I started to get, as we like to call, "creative."
I started going to these check-cashing places, which charge you like 600 percent interest on writing post-dated checks. Basically, they honor bad checks—is what they do. Luckily, they didn't have title pawn legislation in my state; otherwise, I'd probably sign over the title to my car for a few hundred dollars. And then, as that started to run out, I started floating checks. Then I got really desperate. I had to cover my rent one month because I had gambled all my money away. At my work, I had access to—like a change fund—like, if we held special events, I could fill out a form and go get $400 or $500.
Bob: A petty cash kind of thing?
Michael: Yes, like petty cash. Then, within three or four days of getting that, return it. It was kind of this revolving thing, where I said, "Well, I'm just going to do this once," and so I did.
And a credit to the people that I worked with—they trusted me. Once again, it was that I led a double life. One thing about gambling addiction is—there's no real visible physiological change—you're not slurring your speech, you're not stumbling / getting DWIs—things like that from substance abuse or alcoholism.
The first time I did that, I felt really guilty. I felt really guilty three days later, when I brought back the money. So, I didn't do it for about another four or five months, until I got in a jam again / put myself in a jam again—and so I gave myself permission.
The key thing about people with gambling addictions, and probably any addiction, is that phrase, "You give yourself permission." Just like Adam and Eve gave themselves permission to eat from the tree, when they knew it was wrong. They compartmentalized and said, "Well," you know—they believed the whisper of the serpent.
So, then, it just became too easy—
—I had gotten away with it / I had gotten away with it. I had just become numb to what I was really doing—was stealing—even though the university wasn't out any extra money—I was still stealing. I was still betraying their trust / the stewardship of the responsibility I'd been given.
Bob: This was in the middle of a four-year run that you were involved with gambling. You've already told us that you spent a part of that time in Gamblers Anonymous, but that didn't take for you. You got out of that and were back into gambling. Where did it all explode? What brought it to an end for you?
Michael: Well, my life was just spiraling out of control. My work ethic was terrible—I was taking two-hour lunches to go play, even if I had $25 in my pocket.
Dennis: Where did you live?
Michael: I lived north of Seattle, Washington.
Dennis: So where’d you go to play?
Michael: There were two or three casinos that were within about an hour’s drive of—
Dennis: You'd take your lunch break, at the college you worked at,—
Michael: That's right.
Dennis: —to go gamble?
Michael: That's right. Well, I certainly didn't need to eat—I had to gamble. That was my escape—that was my food. It goes back to that maturity thing. It goes back to never becoming a real man. So yes, the Gamblers Anonymous meetings worked—but just for a time because I wasn’t willing to be honest with other people in my life. When I did have a relapse—which a lot of people do with addiction—what you’re supposed to do is go back and share that, but I was too prideful. I didn’t want to go back and say that I had failed.
Dennis: Back to Bob's question— when you finally hit bottom, it was actually some of the stealing where you finally got caught.
Michael: Exactly. The opening story that I tell in the book, All In, is when I was sitting at a blackjack table. I had done the change fund theft from my work.
It wasn't borrowing—it was thievery. I was sitting in front of a blackjack hand. I had two aces staring at me. In Texas Hold 'Em poker, that's a great hand—it's the best you can have. In blackjack, it's a little trepidatious because—
Bob: Well, you double down; don't you?
Michael: Well, actually, no, you split them.
Bob: Oh, yes, you split them.
Michael: You split them, which means you have two cards. You split—
Dennis: Bob was trying to act like he knew—[Laughter]
Michael: I know.
Dennis: —his one trip to a casino. [Laughter]
Michael: Dennis, that's a good sign—that he didn't go, "Oh, yes, you split those"; you know?—if he jumped and talked over me, I would be worried. But, yes, you split them, which means you separate them as two separate hands. Then, you get dealt one card, each on top, hoping that you get a 10 or a face card to make 21.
Michael: But in order to split them, you have to match your bet that you already have out there. I had played the table maximum at that casino.
I had $500 out on those two aces. I had $500 in my pocket, in the form of a purple $500 chip; and that was my insurance policy—I had to take that back to the university. But the play on the odds say—you have to do that.
And so, as I dug into my pocket, for the very first time, I prayed a lot. Gamblers pray a ton; but, for the very first time, I didn't pray for an outcome. I didn't pray for: "Let me, at least, break even," "Let me, at least, win this hand. Then I'll go home. I'll never be back here again." For the very first time, I said: "God, I don't care what You do. Just get me out of this."
So, I pulled out the chip—split the hands / got two good hands—18 and 20. The dealer flips over—is showing a 7 / flips over a 9—the dealer has 16. Odds are they're going to bust—a 6 or higher and they get 22—and they bust.
And the dealer draws a 5 for 21—beats me on both hands. I lose the thousand dollars. I walked away from that table; and I said: "Okay, this is going to be interesting. Let's see what you're going to do, God."
I went back to work. Within 24 hours, the money was due back. A co-worker came up to me and said: "What's the deal with all this?—with this change fund?—because you haven't turned it back in. I don't recognize this event." For the very first time, I felt at peace about telling the truth. I said, "It's bogus—it's bogus."
He said, "Okay, we've got a problem." From there, because I worked at a public university, they prosecuted it as theft. I forgot to mention—I mentioned it in the book—that I had also had video equipment that was entrusted to me. I would go to pawn shops—and I would pawn equipment, and then get it out of pawn when we needed it, et cetera. So, the actual dollar amounts that the university was out was, basically, zero.
But, because each time I borrowed or stole money, it accumulated—in the eyes of the law—into a felony.
Bob: This was the spiritual turning point in your life?
Michael: Oh, boy, yes. With some of my friends that have been long-time Christians and praying for me for a long time since I kind of fell away—I kind of joked with them that I'd pulled a Chuck Colson. You know, I had my stereotypical prison jail-cell conversion, but it really wasn't an emotional one. I mean, it's emotional, to this day, to think about all of the things that I put myself, and my friends, and my co-workers through; but, really, it was a surrendering of the will.
In that holding tank, that I was in for about 36 hours, there was a very small library of like five books. One of them was a tattered King James Bible.
I started in Genesis, and that's when—and I talk about this in the book—that's when I realized that Adam and Eve were created with the ability to weigh risk—that it wasn't a bite of the apple that created risk in our lives—but that risk was there before—because God never said, "Don't even think about eating from the tree." He just said, "Don't eat from the tree." Then, I noticed the first time, in the Bible, where man is fearful is after he disobeyed God. That's why, in the book, I talk about: “We can't avoid risk in life. What we were created to be was to be created without fear.”
Dennis: You know, I'm listening to your story and hearing about you coming to grips with your own addiction. I'm looking over at Hayley, and I'm thinking, "She decided to marry this guy."
Michael: Talk about missions work! [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, talk about risk! I mean, she's got a little gambling in her blood!
Hayley: Well, I do.
Dennis: Why did you decide to do that, Hayley? I mean, were you aware of all this? You guys met, online.
Dennis: How much of this did you know?
Hayley: Well, actually, on our first date, we went out to eat. We sat down / we started having some chips and salsa, and he proceeded to talk. He talked, and he talked, and he talked. He told me all this, and all of his sordid past, for the entire date. I basically got to say: "Oh,” “Mmm-hmm,” “Oh."
Dennis: Like a dump truck?
Hayley: Yes; exactly.
Michael: You know why—
Dennis: Now, wait a second, you've talked long enough.
Bob: That's right.
Hayley: See! That’s what I should have said. [Laughter]
Dennis: So, you're sitting there, with the back of the dump truck elevating.
Dennis: What are you thinking, Hayley?
Hayley: Well, probably, not what you think I might have been thinking.
Bob: She's thinking, “There's not going to be a second date.”
Hayley: Right. I think, like every red-blooded woman—I'm thinking nothing about the gambling, nothing about his divorce, nothing about—I'm not even thinking about that.
I'm thinking: "This guy must not like me because he's not letting me talk. I need to talk in order to bond with somebody, and he's not letting me talk. I'm never going to go out with this guy again because I don't get to talk!" [Laughter] Women—
Michael: We have three men in the studio, staring at her, like—[Laughter]
Hayley: This is one of the sad truths about women—that I write in a lot of my books—and that is that we have the tendency to lie to ourselves. That was not important. My concept was: “I want somebody that wants to listen to me”; and so, frankly, I didn't hear it.
Dennis: So, you were oblivious.
Michael: She had written me off—and not because of my gambling—but just because—
Hayley: No, it wasn't because of that—that may change, obviously.
Bob: That may suffice for the first couple of dates; but, at the point, that he says, "Will you marry me?" then you're thinking: "Okay, what am I about to marry?” and “What if he relapses?"
Hayley: You know, I think that probably was in the back of my mind; but, frankly, I think the fact that most women—we don't think about all those things and get too concerned about them because we know love will prevail.
Now, I don't think that's really common sense or very smart; but in addition, being just who I am—I really felt like and knew—that: “This was the one.”
I was 37. I'd seen a lot of them come through, telling me they were “the one.” I just—I knew that I knew that I knew. His—I'll tell you what it was—the fact that he confessed what he had done—that he said it was wrong, and that he wasn't hiding any of it really helped me to believe that it wasn't happening—at least, at the time—and it wasn't going to happen again. It didn't really scare me too bad.
Bob: Let me ask Dennis: “If you were Hayley's dad, and she calls you and says—
Hayley: Keep in mind, I'm 37; and my clock is ticking.
Bob: “Daddy, I'm 37; and I've met the most wonderful guy.”
Dennis: “Sweetheart, you've reminded me you're 37 through a lot of years, Sweetheart. [Laughter] We've all been praying for the right man.” I'm not sure what I would say. I think I'd want some time with Mr. All-In over here—I really would!
I'd want to know track record—I'd want to know walk with Christ. I'd want to know: “What your objectives are / where your life is headed now.” Then I'd want to ask Hayley a question. Here would be the question I'd ask you: "Okay, Hayley, my daughter. Let's say the kids are now in elementary school, and you come home one day. You're cleaning out his pockets, and you find evidence that he's been gambling. Maybe it is a few chips in the pocket, and you find out he's been gambling for the past year. What would you do then?"
Hayley: Wow! Well, I'd definitely start to talk to him about it and, knowing me, I would probably preach to him.
Then I would pray over him, and then I would make sure that he would be in the Word with somebody that could walk alongside him because I really don't feel like the wife should ever be the leader of the man.
Dennis: I'm glad you mentioned that—you'd go get another man.
Hayley: Right. I think there has to be a man that will hold him accountable—that I know that will pull no punches and that will really have him stick to the letter of God's law. We would work through it because, you know, there's no one righteous, not even one. We're all sinning. He—I don't know—weekly / monthly, at least, has to point out to me where I've fallen; and I have to get back up, and I have to confess and say “I'm sorry.” It is a sin that could, obviously, be damaging to our family; but I just don't think there's any sin that—there is no sin that's too big for Christ and for His Word to change.
Dennis: And to the woman, right now, who is married to the man?
Hayley: Well, I would say: “First of all, get control of the money. I don't think there's anything wrong with saying, ‘I'm in charge of the money.’ Take back all the credit cards / checkbooks. There should be no access to any of those funds.” The good thing about—well, for us, we work together at home.
We both work from home, being authors. We're together 24/7, so I know what he's doing.
When you have a husband that leaves the home, you don't know what he's doing. I think it would be important—again, I think, for him to have a man who keeps track of him. I don't think the wife should be keeping track of him, but someone should be keeping track of what he's doing with his time. They have software for the internet to find out what websites he's on. Again, a man should be monitoring that.
Bob: The point is: “There needs to be community and accountability.”
Hayley: There does—there has to be because the wife can't handle it on her own.
Bob: And one of the reasons we've got the epidemics we have—whether it's pornography, or gambling, or we can go through any list—is because, as you said, Michael, you kept this thing away from everybody in your life. Where it's kept in darkness, it's going to flourish. But you open the door and say, "I have a propensity toward this,"—you tell some of your buddies: “You know, this was a part of my past. I could fall to this again,"—and you've just put them on alert. Now, there's a little more safeguard there; right?
Dennis: Yes; yes. I'm glad you answered the question as you did because there has to be grace in any marriage that is going to go the distance.
Hayley: That's right. You know, if there isn't—if she's lecturing him or—
Hayley: —nagging him, or telling him what he has to do, or monitoring him / calling him every hour—that's going to damage the marriage because, suddenly, she's running the marriage / running the man. That balance—when the wife takes over and becomes the leader and the husband becomes, essentially, the child—nobody is getting out of the relationship what they want anymore.
Dennis: Yes, someone has said nagging is like being nibbled to death by a duck.
Hayley: That sounds good—a duck with teeth. [Laughter]
Dennis: A duck with teeth—that's right. That's not what marriage was intended to be. And I'm not your father, but it does sound like you guys have made a great choice. We're thrilled you've been here to share your story on FamilyLife Today.
Bob, I know there are listeners, right now, in the midst of tragic relationships, where this is no laughing matter.
It is for them—today, right now, front and center—and they need help and hope in how to deal with it.
Bob: You remember, a while back, when we talked with David Powlison and Ed Welch from the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation on the subjects of addictive behavior. We talked about all kinds of addictions—to drugs, and alcohol, gambling, eating disorders, pornography. There are all kinds of behaviors that can become compulsive in our lives and can—first, rule our lives and, ultimately, ruin our lives.
Ed's written a book called Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave that looks at the whole subject of compulsive addictive behaviors. As we start a new year, there may be some listeners, who are thinking, “This is the year where I really have got to address / I have got to get some help to deal with these compulsive behaviors in my own life.” A good place to start is getting a copy of Ed Welch’s book, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave.
You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link, at the top of the page that says, “GO DEEPER.” You’ll find information about Ed’s book available there. You can order it from us, online, if you’d like. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. We also have a link that makes available the interviews we did with Ed Welch and David Powlison on the subject. You can listen to those interviews—stream them, online, or download them for free if you’d like. Once again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link at the top of the page that says, “GO DEEPER,” to access these resources.
You know, as we kick off a brand new year, all of us, here at FamilyLife, are really—we have a sense of expectancy about what God is going to do in 2015 through this ministry—about the events that we will host, the resources we’ll be creating, about this daily radio program and how God’s going to use it in people’s lives.
One of the reasons we can have that expectancy is because, during the month of December, we heard from many of our listeners—who called, or went online, or who mailed in a donation—and said: “We want to stand with you. We want to make 2015 a great year for this ministry. We believe this ministry is important / we believe it’s needed, and we want to help support it.”
We appreciate your partnership very much. We are still going through the mail to determine exactly how everything ended up at the end of the month; but we just want you to know how grateful we are that you thought about us, that you pray for us, and that you help support this ministry. We couldn’t do what we do without you.
Of course, if for some reason you missed making a donation before the end of the year, it’s not too late to go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper right-hand corner that says, “I Care,” and make an online donation. Or, if you’d like to mail your donation to us, our mailing address is FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
And we hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday. We’re going to talk to the former chaplain for the Baltimore Ravens football team. We’re going to talk about what a husband can do to protect his wife—how he can cover her—physically, financially, emotionally, and spiritually. Rod Hairston joins us, along with his wife Sheri. Hope you can be here as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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