Beilue: More losers than winners after Super Sunday

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Arnie Wexler was settling in to watch the Super Bowl about 25 years ago when he got a call from a desperate gambler who needed help because of losses from the game. Help? The game – New York Giants versus Denver Broncos – was barely into the first quarter.

“He didn’t want to wait two to three hours for the game to end to get action,” said Wexler. “So he lost $22,000 betting on the coin flip.”

You’ve heard of that saying that the Super Bowl is to the compulsive gambler what New Year’s Eve is to the alcoholic? So’s Wexler. He came up with it.

“Gambling is a mirage,” said Wexler. “A gambler thinks he’s smarter than everyone else. He’s not.”

Wexler is a reformed compulsive gambler who, along with his wife, run a counseling service for those across the country with the same problem he once had, one that nearly ruined him. Just after the Super Bowl is as busy for Wexler as Black Friday is to retail merchants.

“February is the biggest month we have,” said Wexler, who got more than 100 calls one year the day after the Super Bowl. “Before that, it’s pretty quiet. Then it just explodes with people looking for help, desperate people with nowhere else to turn.”

If Sunday’s Super Bowl XLV is similar to last year’s game, more than $82 million will be wagered legally, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board. But that’s only money wagered on the state’s sports books by those age 21 and older.

And that, analysts say, is around 1 percent that is actually bet. A staggering $8.2 billion was believed bet in some form on last year’s Super Bowl, making it once again the biggest lures to wagering ever created. And it’s like crack cocaine for those who do it all the time.

That’s especially true with the endless side bets throughout the game: What will be the first song the Black Eyed Peas sing at halftime? Who will score more, the Packers or LeBron James, who plays earlier in the day? Who will the Super Bowl MVP thank first? God, family, teammates, coaches or no one? What will be the color of the sports drink dumped on the winning coach?

“It’s adrenaline,” Wexler said of the addiction. “It’s not winning or losing, but the true action. It’s about the juice that flows inside you even as you’re placing a bet. If they’ve lost betting during the football season, they chase the money in this game. If they’ve been winning, they want to double up.

“That’s why the Super Bowl gets that kind of action. There’s a two-week lag for it. In that time, every reporter in America has written all kinds of kind stuff including what kind of fingernails a player’s wife wears. There’s so much hype, and even for compulsive gamblers in recovery, they get juiced up and want back in. I get relapses this year all the time.”

But what of those who buy $5 squares at the Super Bowl party or wager on one game a year, and that’s the championship of the NFL? That’s harmless and victimless fun, isn’t it?

“There’s probably millions doing that, and it’s no problem for them,” Wexler said. “It’s like the guy who goes into the neighborhood bar for a beer. It’s not a problem, and millions gamble like that. But for people who are addicted to gambling – and there’s millions of those – the Super Bowl can often ruin you, your family, and your life will never be the same.”

Wexler, who has spoken at Texas Tech University three times about college gambling, lives in Florida. He quickly called me back because compulsive gamblers – estimates are at least 3 million in the country – aren’t limited to the Sunshine State. They are everywhere, old and young, men and women, blue collar and while collar. It’s naive to believe the Texas Panhandle is somehow exempt. Based on the percentage, there’s at least 2,000 in Amarillo alone that fit that category. Seems high until waiting in line at a convenience store as someone who won a few bucks on a scratch-off ticket turns around to buy more to scratch again.

“They’re not falling down. They don’t look disheveled or beat up like an alcoholic or drug addict,” Wexler said. “It’s such a hidden illness. You can’t smell it or see it. There’s no needle marks, no dilated pupils. But it’s as devastating as any addiction.”

The phones will be ringing from all over the country to Wexler’s office by early Monday. He will hear the same desperation and hopelessness in their voices.

“Most gamblers don’t seek help until they’ve bottomed out and lost about everything,” Wexler said. “If you’re a drug addict or alcoholic, the next hit or drink will make life seem better. A gambler has the mindset his next bet is going to his life around. It won’t.”

Jon Mark Beilue’s column appears three times weekly. He can be reached at or 806-345-3318. His blog appears on
For those needing help with a gambling problem, call 888-LAST-BET.

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