RONALDO (not his real name) was gambling in a casino in Cebu when one of the fancy table lights caught fire. “Mayta’g masunog ni. Makaundang na gyud ko (I hope this place burns. And then I’ll finally stop).”
That incident happened after his third attempt to quit gambling, triggered by a spell of depression that had led him to sell everything so he could start anew in a new country. When he heard about a man who torched the gambling tables last Friday in Resorts World Manila’s casino—a man who knew his way around—Ronaldo suspected that an enraged gambler was involved.
“Dumot gyud to ba. Dala na sa kalagot nga wala kabawi (I suspected it was a case of rage. He was probably furious he couldn’t get his money back).”
Did he ever think of setting a casino on fire? No, Ronaldo said, but he did think about how he could hold up a casino.
“Ngano man? (What for?)”
“Para maka-bawi (To recoup my losses),” he said, laughing.
By his estimate, Ronaldo has gambled away some P5 million in a 16-year gambling addiction that also cost him his taxi business. At one point, Ronaldo’s wife looked for a rehabilitation facility for him, but gave up after learning how expensive it was.
Now a father of two—with another child from a previous relationship—Ronaldo remembers the first time he stepped into a casino. He had gone in to get his father.
“There were no cell phones then, and there was no way to contact him. So, I had to get him,” said Ronaldo.
The first time he tried to go to a casino on his own, it was New Year’s Eve and the casino had closed early. That didn’t stop Ronaldo.
When he finally got in another day, he marveled at the set-up, amenities, and staff; they were all designed and trained to treat you like a king and, of course, make you spend like one.
He has tried to quit four times before. He again tried to kick the habit last Feb. 1.
At one point, he spent as much as 80 percent of his salary in the casino. But the habit began long before that, while he was still in college, when he gambled away P10,000 (a tuition refund) and kept it from his parents. When he transferred to Cebu, the gambling got worse.
His wife knew about his gambling while they were still dating, but thought he seldom did it. And then she found out he could lose up to P10,000 in an hour. “I was dismayed. I asked him how he could afford to waste P10,000 in an hour. That’s equivalent to half a month of hard work for me.”
They got married. He quit gambling. He ran a taxi business, but then started to get bored and resumed gambling. This time, with more disposable income, he spent more money and more time in the casino.
“The turning point was when I was introduced to financiers. I could get inside casinos with only P20 in my pocket but I could loan P20,000,” he said. Eventually, he was considered good for a P100,000 loan. Or, he’d pawn his taxi franchise for that amount to get gambling money.
At one point, he was earning P10,400 a day from the 13 units at P800 rent per unit. He’d sit in his office, waiting for his drivers’ remittances. He got bored.
His return to gambling started innocently enough. “I told myself that I’d just spend P1,500 and then leave,” he said.
His father-in-law got curious. Why did Ronaldo keep disappearing? Soon, the father-in-law—who had quit gambling because a brother had gone bankrupt because of the addiction—gambled again. Ronaldo’s father-in-law, too, lost his taxi business. That’s a source of conflict between Ronaldo and some of his in-laws.
“They say I influenced him to gamble again, but he was already a gambler even before I was born,” he said.
Finally, after selling four taxi units to finance his addiction, he had had enough.
“I wanted to start a new life, so I decided to sell the rest (of the nine taxis),” he said. He made P3.3 million (close to P10 million at today’s franchise prices) and went to Singapore with the family to start a new life.
“Did he tell you about Singapore, when he realized everything that had happened and nag-sige siya hilak (he kept on crying)?” his wife said.
He tried everything
That depression lasted three months. “I couldn’t get a job because I had no diploma, so I returned to Cebu,” he said.
This time, Ronaldo began a buy-and-sell business and started earning. He started gambling again, too, though he kept telling himself to spend only what he earned from selling.
“Nahurot gihapon tanan (I lost everything),” said Ronaldo. Aside from casinos, he has gambled in card games, mahjong, billiards, cockfighting, spiders, basketball, lotto, bingo. (Name it, he said, I have gambled on it.)
His wife begged him to sign up for rehab, after she heard that a gambling addiction was just like a drug addiction.
Ronaldo tried self-rehab. He quit again, straightened up, got back in school, got a degree. Months into his new job and armed with a stable income, he resumed gambling, this time, limiting himself to slot machines.
One time, during a fight, his wife told him not to bother going home. “Di daw ko pauli-un. Dili diay, ha? May pa mo-sugal (When she told me not to go home, I decided to go gamble instead).”
There were a few times Ronaldo would win and win big. He won P378,000 a mere five minutes after sitting down in front of a slot machine last Aug. 18, 2016. In December 2016, while on a company outing at Resorts World, he won P82,500, betting P528 in one go. At various points, he won P35,000 in bingo, P160,000 in swertres (multiple maximum bets), and P40,000 in another lotto game.
“Padaugon man sad lagi ta (Sometimes you win),” he said wryly, but shook his head, “Pero wa gyud, wa gyud ayo (But it’s not good).”
In between big wins, he’d lose big. But apart from the money wasted, he regrets the time spent away from his family.
“I can’t recall being there for (one of his children) from 1 to 3 years old,” he said. He would leave at 1 p.m. and stay in the casino until 1 to 2 a.m.
This year, he quit. Again. So far, he’s been clean for close to three months. He hopes it stays that way.
As for folks who want to try going to the casino, this is his advice: “Spend it somewhere else na lang seguro.”
He hopes this attempt to quit will be the final one, but added, “I’ve always wanted to play in Las Vegas, pang bucket list.”
His wife is elated by his latest attempt to quit. To spouses going through what she went through, she advised: “Get a separate account. Ask for help. Someone is bound to lend a hand. You can’t change him. Save those (you, your kids) who need to be saved first. Pray and pray hard. It works. You can either leave or you stick to your vows. For richer or poorer man kaha. So when he was so down, I had to stay strong...Allow him to find his time to help himself up again. Then you help each other. People consider this a cliche. But it worked for us.”