Valley man beats the odds by overcoming gambling problemPosted: Updated:
Gambling is something people in the United States like to do for fun, but for millions it's an addiction that's turning their lives upside down. One Valley man's compulsive gambling drove him to a place he never wants to go again.
“It's amazing how this story has arrived at this point when here I was on my way to jail just eight years ago,” Mark Erickson said.
Erickson's life is nothing like it was back in 2002. He was calling Tent City his home after a 20-year gambling problem finally caught up to him.
“It started back in college and how convenient a student loan was at the time that gambling was introduced to me,” Erickson said.
Erickson not only dipped into his student loan money to fuel his addiction at the dog track he also turned to credit cards.
“All I had to do was fill out those applications and here came more money,” Erickson continued.
Dog races led to horses and eventually blackjack. During his 20s, Erickson spent three weekends a month in Las Vegas.
“All you would have to do is be required to sit at $5 and $10 tables, gamble for a certain amount of time and they would comp a room or two for you on the weekend,” Erickson said.
Once Erickson got married and had kids he wasn't able to make so many trips to sin city. So he found something he could do close to home, fantasy football.
“One league wasn't enough,” Erickson said. “I had to be in two, then four, then six and then I was in eight fantasy football leagues.”
Win or lose the one-time accountant had to keep finding money. So he opened up more credit cards accounts. At one point he had 28 in his name. Once he couldn't make those payments, he filed for bankruptcy. But to keep feeding his addiction, Erickson began stealing from his clients.
“They trusted me with their checkbooks and, unfortunately, at that time I helped myself to their money,” Erickson said.
Erickson stole almost $120,000 from his clients. It wasn't until one of them confronted him that he knew his luck had run out. Feeling desperate and trapped, Erickson took off and left a note telling his family to forget about him and for almost a month he made the trek from casino to casino in California and Nevada.
“I knew if I could just take the last $8,000 that's available to me in my account and other people's accounts, I can turn that money into the $120,000 I owed to these people,” Erickson said.
He never recovered that money, but Erickson did finally make a call to a hotline helping problem gamblers.
“It was at that moment when I had a glimmer of hope because he too was a recovering compulsive gambler, who had been to jail for crimes he had committed,” Erickson said.
The man on the other end of the phone was the founder of the Arizona Council on Compulsive Gambling. He helped Erickson face his family, jail time for a year and a 12-step program to deal with his gambling demons.
“It's been a relief that those three choices, prison, insanity or death, are just waiting for me if ever I go back and decide I can gamble normally again,” Erickson said. “I can't, I'm a compulsive gambler and I will be for the rest of my life. I have to attend meetings. I have to reach out and help others.”
He is doing that as president of the Arizona Council on Compulsive Gambling. The same organization that helped him get back on track. For more information on the Arizona Council on Compulsive Gambling, call 602-212-0278 or go to www.azccg.org. You can also call 1-800-NEXTSTEP (1-800-639-8783) or go to Problem Gambling AZ.