As Bets Are Placed On NFL Playoffs, A Local Recovering Gambler Shares His Story

The Houston Texans failed to make it into the NFL playoffs for yet another year. But that won't keep a lot of people in the Houston area from placing bets on the playoffs, along with the Super Bowl. While you might think this is the most exciting time of the year for sports gamblers, it actually isn't. David Pitman talked with a recovering gambler to find out why.

Hugo is a 44-year-old native New Yorker who has lived in Houston since grade school.  He says back when he bet on football, it wasn't the playoffs or the Super Bowl he really looked forward to, it was the first week of the NFL season.

"Week one, everyone's excited.  Everyone wants their team to win, and there's that many more propositions.  There's 15 games compared to 4 games.  There's that many more totals.  And the college (season) has already started up and so there's about 30 games in college."

It was actually a college game that started Hugo on the path to becoming a gambler.  He was attending Spring Oaks middle school when he placed a bet with a teacher from a seminary on the 1978 Cotton Bowl.

"The adult was talking about how UT was number one, and they were gonna win.  And I thought Notre Dame was gonna win.  And I bet him five dollars, when everyone else was betting quarters — I wanted to win big.  I did win, never got paid.  But I thought from then on, this would be an easy source of money because I knew sports, and I could just make extra money."

Hugo says he didn't have many opportunities to gamble during high school.  But things really started to pick up when he went to UT, where he easily found bookies happy to accept wagers on football games.  After college, he hooked up with a bookie who handled not only football, but basketball and baseball games, as well.

"And so that enabled me to just get into the throes of gambling.  And when I wanted to change it up, go to Vegas or go to the horse track — but always looking for the action."

That quest for action dominated his life.  Hugo says as soon as he got up in the morning, he would start researching point spreads and totals, injury reports, and even what the weather was going to be like on game day.

"And then later on at night, I don't think you could even sleep well 'cause then you'd have to think about 'okay, how much money am I gonna have this week? Where am I gonna get the money?  Who am I gonna have to borrow from?  What credit card?'  And so you can never put 100% into your job, 100% into your relationship.  You can never be in the moment."

Hugo says he knew something had to change when he made it to his 30s without reaching the goals he'd set for his career or personal life. His recovery began with a 12-step group for alcoholics, and individual therapy.  He later realized that gambling was his primary addiction.  For the first two years of recovery, he watched no televised sports at all.  Today, he's gone ten years without placing a bet.

"I'm still a big sports fan.  I just don't watch the sports.  I don't keep track of the statistics.  I just try to enjoy little pieces here and there — enjoy sports, but don't get overly invested in it."

Hugo says recovery from gambling has freed enough time and money for him to get his masters degree, keep a long-term girlfriend, and buy a house.

If you have a gambling problem or know someone who does, please call 888.442.7105.

Bio photo of David Pitman

David Pitman

Local Host, Morning Edition

The one question David hears most often isn't "What is it like to work for an NPR member station?" or "Have you ever met Terry Gross?" (he has)...