Gambling addict is still fighting the demons

"Why don't you just get lost?"

The words, tossed out at the end of an otherwise unremarkable marital dispute, slapped Wayne Davies a lot harder than they should have.

"It just hit me and pierced my heart," Davies said. "I got my feelings hurt, and I just took it like a little kid."

He ran.

He was in the truck 10 minutes before he realized he had pointed it toward a Council Bluffs casino. Davies, a retired shipbuilder and longtime advocate against the spread of gambling, was headed back to the slot machines that once cost him his dream home, his quiet California retirement and nearly everything else he owned. According to Davies, gambling was a mistress he thought he'd left behind when he moved to Iowa and rediscovered the Bible roughly 13 years ago.

"It was unplanned," he said. "There was no intention. It just kind of snuck up on me."

So, while West Des Moines police searched for the "lost" 68-year-old heart patient, Davies burned up 36 hours and roughly $1,300, one casino-cashed check at a time.

But Wayne Davies ultimately found his way back. And he wants you to understand.

"I don't feel this time that I fell, so much as I stumbled," Davies said in a meeting room at the Valley Junction church where he still presides over a weekly anti-addiction support group. "You don't get ahead by looking back. ... You get ahead by looking forward."

Iowa experts figure that up to 5 percent of the population wrestles with some form of gambling addiction, but there are no statistics on how those people fare in long-term battles with their demons. The best Iowa survey says slightly fewer than 71 percent of problem gamblers can expect to be gambling-free six months after they finish addiction treatment.

Most should expect to feel that familiar pull for the rest of their lives, said Lisa Pierce, director of the nonprofit Central Iowa Gambling Treatment Program. If they are successful in treatment, most will manage to turn somewhere for help before they get too far out of control.

"There are always going to be certain things that trigger it though life as crises come up," Pierce said. "You're always going to be compulsive. You're always going to have compulsive tendencies."

Davies, a San Francisco-area shipbuilder, gambled for the first time as part of all-night excursion with his work buddies to Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada line. He was 21. Over the next few decades, he and his wife and two children made frequent weekend trips to casinos, mostly in Reno, Nev. They'd spend the night, see a show and play some slot machines. It was fun.

As time passed, however, freeways sprang up and made it quicker and easier to get to Nevada. Davies' children grew up and moved away. He began to gamble longer and longer during the trips. His wife, who didn't like his refusals to quit, began to stay behind.

By the mid-1990s, the debts had begun to pile up. Chunks of money intended for a new house found their way into the slot machines. By the time the couple's retirement home was finished, there was too much debt to afford the payments.

Finally, during a visit to his son in Iowa, Davies' granddaughter told him he needed to accept Jesus into his life.

"I just buried myself in the Bible, and that's what got me out of it," he said. "None of my ways was ever going to do it."

A few years later, in 1997, Davies paid the city of Madrid $1 for the deed to a dilapidated old movie theater. The plan was to refurbish and reopen it as a venue for good, old-fashioned family-friendly films from the 1940s and '50s. Down the road, there was supposed to be a restaurant and maybe an addiction treatment center next door.

"This shows what a dollar and a dream can do," former Vice President Dan Quayle said in a pre-caucus visit to the theater in 1999.

But there were never enough dollars, so Davies ultimately abandoned the dream. He moved to West Des Moines.

Today, he uses space at the Valley Junction Church of God to run Family Tyme, a nonprofit organization set up as part of the theater project. He's been working with experts, including Pastor David Redden, and hopes to train people to run support groups similar to the one he leads on Tuesday nights at the church.

"Wayne is not doing the training," Redden said. "What he's doing is saying, 'These people need help like I need help.' "

Twelve people are lined up for classes that begin later this month. The focus, according to Davies, will be simple: Live by the Bible.

You don't have to be perfect. You just can't let anything knock you too far off the path.

For his own part, Davies says he's worked to cut expenses and eliminate bills and the stress that leads to his weakness.

"I don't think I should ever get the attitude that I don't need a support group like this," Davies said. "I can't do it for them. I can only encourage them. But I know the way."

Now, especially.
source: Des Moines Register