Wednesday, May 21, 2008

If I can afford it, it’s not a problem

That was essentially the argument put forward by Charles Barclay after his unpaid gambling debts came to light as a result of a civil complaint filed by a casino in Las Vegas. Barclay ran up a debt of $400,000. while gambling at the Wynn Hotel and Casino in October 2007, after the casino fronted him four different $100,000 markers. Having waited eight months to get their money, the Wynn decided to file a civil complaint.

Barkley responded by promptly accepting responsibility for the debt. “My mistake”, he said, “I'm not broke, and I’m going to take care of it.” 

Why did he say that he wasn’t broke, I wondered? What a bizarre defensive statement. But I have to admit that I also kind of admired Barclay’s refusal to play the typical celebrity/Hollywood game. He did not seek public sympathy for his gambling problems. He did not immediately declare that he was going into rehab. He did not issue a statement via his agent saying that he was seeking help and wanted his privacy to be respected during this period. Instead he said that he wasn’t broke and that he was going to pay his debt. And he promptly did. 

Charles Barclay has always been a forthright individual who never hesitates to express a provocative opinion. When asked [in 2005] what he thought of Rafael Nadal, Barclay responded, “I like the young man but he can never be my favorite. A man cannot wear Capri pants!!” 

Barclay was similarly characteristically forthright when asked by an ESPN interviewer whether he has a gambling problem. He ended up both admitting and denying that he has a problem. Let me quote his exact words in all their contradictory glory: “Do I have a gambling problem? Yeah, I do have a gambling problem but I don’t consider it a problem because I can afford to gamble. It’s just a stupid habit that I’ve got to get under control, because it’s just not a good thing to be broke after all of these years.” 

OK then, so he is broke, I thought. Hmmm, now I’m getting confused. I could have sworn that he had said earlier that he was not broke. And he is also conceding a loss of control – one of the markers (no pun intended) of addiction. But in the next breath, he denies having a problem! And what is this business of not having a problem because he can afford to gamble? Since when is one’s ability to afford a “habit” proof that said habit has not become a serious problem? Amy Winehouse can afford to pay for crack. Does this mean she does not have a drug problem? Is Barclay trying to say that only poor people have problems while rich people just have habits? So if a poor man wastes his income on hookers, he may have a sex addiction, but the fact that Charlie Sheen still has a bank balance mean that he just has a sex habit? Is that how it works now?

That Barclay’s little habit has cost him $10. million dollars is apparently irrelevant. After all, he is wealthy and wealthy people who can afford their habits do not have problems. Is that denial or ignorance? 

What Barclay does not seem to comprehend is that what defines an addiction is not the amount of money one spends on it per se, but the difficulty controlling the behavior itself, even when it starts having serious negative consequences for the gambler and his family. It’s not the total sum of money wasted on the “habit” – after all, that is at least in part determined by one’s access to wealth – but the increasing loss of control, indicated both by the frequency with which one gambles and the steady increases in the amount wagered. In its late stages, a gambling addiction becomes a grim and joyless experience. 

Gamblers need professional psychological help.  Barclay, the man with the habit, relies instead on his agent. “My agent has really worked with me to try to get it where I can go and gamble and have fun,” he said. “That's easier said than done.” 

Don’t you just love how some people are honest in spite of themselves? And Barclay acknowledges this honesty later in the interview, “One problem I have is that I’m always trying to be honest…I understand that’s a lot of money, but it is my money. Nobody has the right to tell me what to do with my money. Like I said, I’m going to continue gambling, because I like it, but I realize I’ve got to gamble for less.” Barclay also reassures that he never bets on basketball but only goes to casinos.

Barclay has always been honest about not wanting to be a role model and not believing that sports figures should ever be. I can’t help but admire his clueless belief that his saying makes it so. Like it or not, he is a role model. This is not something that one chooses. It is a part of the packet that accompanies success and fame – in the same way that despair, loss of hope, and even imprisonment are part of the package deal that accompanies untreated compulsive, pathological gambling. I hope his agent remembered to tell him this as well.

No comments: