Christina Cook had never heard of gambling addiction. But she was already on the verge of becoming addicted – ultimately losing nearly half a million dollars and, almost, her own life.
In 2007, at age 28, the Tulsa, Okla., native was separated from her first husband, mourning the death of her beloved grandmother and living at home with her mother.
Then her mom, with whom she is very close, had a heart attack.
After rushing her to the hospital, “I went home to get her pajamas and stuff to make her comfortable,” Cook, now 43, recalled. On the way home, feeling “emotionally taxed”, Cook took a detour – to Osage Nation Casino in Sand Springs, outside of Tulsa. Flashing lights, friendly faces and the anticipation of a jackpot relieved her of the stress.
“I sat down at a slot machine and hit a $1,201 jackpot,” Cook recalled. “My sister would call me and say, ‘Where’s mum’s stuff?’ But it was so high.
Feeling shame mixed with euphoria, Cook returned to the hospital with her mother’s things. “They were all crazy, asking me, ‘Where have you been?’ “, she recalls.
“That’s when it all started to be a secret.”
The game would become Cook’s escape from her struggles with cervical cancer, a hysterectomy, and the heartache of knowing she would never be a birth mother.
“My friends all had babies,” she recalls. “I didn’t want to hear about showers and feedings, so I started playing the game on Friday nights.”
During the years of escalating addiction from 2008 to 2015, Cook, a longtime “people pleaser”, became romantically involved with her boss, whom she describes as a “narcissist”.
“He told me we were going out and then ghosted me,” she recalls. “He always wanted to meet late at night. He was all about control, and he made me feel bad, like I couldn’t look good enough or do anything good.
She remembers going to a work auction where “they were selling slices of strawberry cake,” her favorite kind. It was her birthday and she told her boyfriend she was going to have a piece.
“He said, ‘You don’t need this,'” she recalls. “But I still have a slice.” Her boyfriend looked at her in disgust, refusing to sit with her for the rest of the night.
“He did everything in his power to isolate me, which in hindsight allowed the addiction to do the same,” Cook said. “These machines had no expectations of me. I just had to feed them to feel good.
Her gambling addiction worsened during the years she was with her toxic lover, who refused to meet his family.
During the early years of his gambling addiction, Cook would often sit in front of a slot machine (his game of choice) and “hit.”
She would wager a significant portion of her paycheck, around $300, on paydays.
At first, she was lucky. “Some nights I felt like I was on fire,” she recalls. “Every machine I sat on, I won. People were shouting, ‘You’re so lucky!’ and I started thinking, ‘Maybe I am.’
But she ended up putting her winnings — and more — back into the slots. “The last few years, it didn’t matter what I earned, I wouldn’t walk away with it.”
The most she ever lost in one day was around $17,000.
“I started with $300,” she said. At one point, she had won jackpots of $16,000 and $5,000. “I remember a casino employee saying, ‘You go home with that, don’t you?
She replayed it.
“I walked out with $4,000 of the $21,000 I had won. I got the $4000 back the next day and lost it plus $2000 of my own money.
In total, from 2008 to 2021, Cook estimates he lost half a million dollars gambling.
She borrowed from her mother and sister over those years – money she has yet to fully repay.
His relationship with his twin, Michelle, became strained because Michelle co-signed a car loan for her and Cook fell behind on payments. “We always helped each other…and then I did this,” she said. “She couldn’t trust me. Although she never made me feel like she wouldn’t be there for me.
“The last count of what I borrowed from my mom was $8,000 and Michelle was $5,000,” she said. “The actual numbers are probably higher. I would say, “My car broke down” – for the fifth time – or “Someone stole my wallet”. Once my mother said to me, ‘You should win an Oscar because these lies are getting more and more outrageous.’ »
She also owed $35,000 in back taxes, $15,000 in credit card debt, $7,000 in medical debt and $3,000 in miscellaneous debt.
Her mother tried to persuade her to get help. “She told me she wanted to be there for me when I hit rock bottom,” Cook recalled.
But Cook was in denial, calling his gambling addiction “financial issues”.
She ended her toxic relationship and met a “nice, easy-going guy” on PlentyofFish.com in 2015. He got on well with his friends and family. They got married. Her acceptance and kindness were particularly attractive qualities after her previous relationship; however, she was still a drug addict leading a double life.
“He didn’t wonder why we never hung out on Friday nights,” she said.
In January 2021, “crippled” by debt and anxiety, Cook quit playing cold turkey.
However, it only hit rock bottom on March 6.
“I had a bad day at work,” she said. “I wasted my entire paycheck, my husband’s and everything we had saved in the bank. I placed my last bet just after midnight.
“After leaving the casino on the morning of March 6, I saw no way out and was thinking of ways to end my life so I wouldn’t be such a burden on the people in my life,” Cook said. . . “There is a big bridge that goes from the casino to my house. I was thinking, ‘Can I get out of this?’
“I didn’t really want to end my life, I wanted to end the addiction that had become my life.
“I said to myself, ‘I will never be healed, I will continue to ruin my life, my family’s life,'” she said.
She went to see her mother the next day, giving her the 1099 she had received from the casino for $5,000 she had won and then lost. (In the US, players receive a 1099 for any win over $1200 even if they subsequently lose it).
“My mom was happy because she thought I was there to pay her back,” Cook recalled. “I cracked up when I saw the disappointed look on his face.”
At her mother’s suggestion, she contacted Gamblers Anonymous (GA). One of the volunteers “took time…to give me hope,” she said.
She placed [her] last bet on March 6, 2021 and regularly attended GA meetings, as well as weekly therapy sessions, and joined social media support groups. Finding few resources for female gambling addicts, she “decided to recover out loud” by “sharing [her] travel and stories of other women” on her podcast, “The Broke Girl Society” and creating a Broke Girl Society support group.
Cook also airs a YouTube show with fellow recovered drug addict Brian Hatch, “The Bet Free Life.” She was frank with her husband.
In her search for resources to help others, she contacted Gamban.com, a company providing software to block online gambling sites. It’s a resource she recommends as a “good tool” for people struggling with an online gambling addiction, which is on the rise.
She wants problem gamblers, including women, to know that help and recovery are available.
“Once you’re honest, there’s no guarantee people won’t give up on you, but there is help,” she said. “It’s about building a life you don’t need to escape from.”
Resources to help fight gambling addiction: National Council on Problem Gambling Hotline (1-800-522-4700); Players in recovery; RecoveryRoadOnline.com; GamblersAnonymous.org and, for online gamblers, Gamban.com.