Vitauts Take 25: Gambling III, The Casino

Vitauts Take 25: Gambling III, The Casino

Across the River Shining Lights and Whistles
Across the River Shining Lights and Whistles

I have been saving this one for last because this is the most egregious of Vitauts’ gambling vices. While he spends a few dollars on the fraudulent contests and a few dollars on the scratch tickets, he spends hundreds at the casino.

I have idly sat by for the past year watching him go “Across the river” to “the boats” to get away for an afternoon. Again, when mom was alive, we used to joke about how they would come for a visit and then sneak off to the boats for a little fun. I thought that it was a once a month thing, but it must have been quite a bit more often than that.

I did the math on dad’s Mercury, the one we just got rid of. He bought the 1999 Grand Marquis in 2002 and it only had about 30,000 miles on it. When we got rid of this month, it was up to 230,000. He put about 200,000 miles on the car in just over ten years. A retired pastor who lived literally a block from his work place put on about 20,000 miles a year! Imagine that. How many of those miles were traveling in I-80 from Lincoln straight to Council Bluffs to play some slot machines? I have to think that it was more than we could have imagined.

When dad first moved in, he was getting overdrafts at the end of each month because he wasn’t tracking his spending. I watched his savings deplete then a few more thousand out of a CD and a few more thousand out of another savings account. When I would tell him he had a problem, he would get furious and tell me the story of how he never had any money, so when he retired and paid off all his bills, he and Liesma would go spend a “little time” at the boats. His point was that he had earned the right to spend his money any way he wanted to.

My point was that he was spending more than he was earning, and this was a problem. The lowest point for me was when he actually asked to borrow money from me because he was overdrawn.

I finally had it out with him, and I really thought I made a dent in his resolve. I told him that when I was little, I always looked up to my father, the pastor who was dignified and strong. I always believed that he had no fear and had an iron will. Now, I told him, I see this old man who can’t even keep track of his checking account. Who can’t go a day without driving to the casino to waste money that he doesn’t have!

But that kind of talk is like telling a meth addict how bad meth is for him. It just goes in one vein and out the other.

One day, Paul, Norm, Al and I all confronted dad to talk about this issue, but even that was a waste of time. Our collective hope right now is that after the accident he has been less prone to drive anywhere, so maybe, just maybe, the Cadillac won’t go “across the river” as often as the Mercury used to, but I am not really expecting anything to change.

The saddest part is that he will tell the same story about the casino every single time, and it’s almost like a mantra for him. “Your mother, my wife, and I would go to casino. She would go play some slots here, and I would go along, and we would spend a little money and have some fun. Sometimes we would win, sometimes we would lose, but we would always be about even.”

Then he will go on, “Now, when I go, it feels good to just be where other people are. There is a waitress who still remembers Liesma, and she brings me a drink, and I give her $20 and tell her to keep the change. She always finds me and comes to talk to me no matter where I am in the casino.”

Just like his other stories, I wonder how much of this is true, and how much is a blurry mishmash of many memories all rolled into one? Is there really a waitress who knows him and sees him every time? Or is that something that happened once twenty years ago?

A few months ago, he hit a jackpot, and he gave Maija and me some of his winnings. I told him to keep the money because he would need it, but he had this light in his eyes, and he was so happy. Months later, when we would talk to him about how much he was losing and spending every month, he would point to that one jackpot to claim that he was still, “a little ahead.” Vitauts, you have been so far behind for so long, that I wouldn’t even know what kind of jackpot you’d need to hit for you to be ahead again.

Most of the time, I just try to pretend that it’s okay. He has his time left on earth and his pension to do whatever he wants to do. He’s earned it. But hasn’t he earned more than this? His final years spent as a slave to an addiction? Is that the fate God intended when he set Vitauts on his path so many years ago? Is this the dignified end of life we all dream of?

I guess the good thing is that the dementia erases the losses. He doesn’t remember, by the end of his time at the casino, how much money he started with and how much he took home. Sometimes he thinks he won after he cashes a $500 check at the teller window because he has $200 in his wallet. Who knows the lies he tells himself to justify his actions? I can’t even really imagine how it works.

I have been to the casino during the day, and it is the single most depressing place I’ve ever seen. Elderly people come in on buses as soon as they get their Social Security checks or pensions and they sit and feed the machines until they have nothing left. I have seen the old men and women standing by as they wait for the bus to come back. They are out of money, and there really isn’t anything to do at the casino once your wallet is empty. Dad is one of these walking dead who can see only one path.

Again, what can you do about it? We have talked about banning him from the casino, cutting off his funding, taking away his driver’s license, but ultimately we have continued to let Free Will prevail. It is his life and his money, but it is just too depressing to watch him shrivel as his bank account is filled and depleted by the end of each and every month.

Sixty years working as a pastor with not a dime to show for it. Why? Probably because the casinos, keno parlors, lotteries and fraudulent contest companies have all of our “inheritance.”

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