No such thing as a sick winner

Jay reflects on the fine line between addiction and fun.

Updated: June 2, 2006, 2:00 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Addiction is no laughing matter, unless you're hooked on phonics or hooked on tanning.

According to yet another televised shrink looking to move product, tanning is right up there with drugs and gambling when it comes to urges. I am a big admirer of the tanning compulsion because of the connection between the thoroughly bronzed body and stupidity. Here's what a tan that is too rich says to me. Run.

In order to quit being addicted, it might be helpful to try to locate the source of the habit.

Many people think that the pre-disposition gene trumps the choice button when it comes to compulsive behavior. This is to say that if one's chromosome is too fuzzy on top, certain of us are doomed from conception to pop pills or pick horses like helpless saps.

But if you can choose to quit being addicted, that suggests that you have chosen to start.

As an example of how complicated trying to mind your own business can be, consider my fate: I am pre-determined not to believe in pre-determination.

Sick gamblers do not appear to be addicted to the games themselves, because they'll bet on anything. The appeal would seem to be the rush that comes with having a slim chance, if only for a second; then the pain of another loss. Pain can be a lot of things, company, even. I made an average grade in college psychology and was lucky to get it. But I know gamblers. It gets back to the following.

There's no such thing as a sick winner.

Big-time athletes say it's the competition they're addicted to, when it comes to gambling losses; sure it is.

Those addicted to losing, (or those who enjoy competing with the devil), can get the best fix in a casino or with sports betting, as the gaming exploits of Charles Barkley and The Big Mulligan, golfer John Daly, indicate. Betting four tracks at once is the horse race equivalent of a slot machine junkie. It is widely thought that people who can afford to lose the money don't have a gambling problem. But if that were the case, why wouldn't somebody like The Big Mulligan bet ten bucks instead of something like $10k?

Can you imagine how long it would take to lose $10 million at a horse race track.

Losing $10,000 a day, every day, it would take you almost three years to drop sports star bread.

Play a few $100,000 Pick Six tickets and hit a couple, forget losing, you'd be way ahead, you'd have to throw money off the roof to get rid of sports hero money at the horse races.

People who might have gambling issues are asked to answer questions like these.

Do you embezzle money at work?

Do you steal from your children?

Do you sell your blood to gamble?

Have you cashed in life insurance to bet a steeplechase race in England?

Have made big bets on lucky numbers?

If you answered yes to four of the five questions, see the nurse.

Usually, it's a fairly simple process to determine if you should quit gambling. If you usually lose at something like blackjack, that means stop it. With horse racing, it can be a more melancholy situation. With horse racing, you could be losing much of the time because you're making dumb bets.