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During another one of Bordner’s GA meetings, Jay LaPlante, a 51-year-old Montana native, listens as an older woman in a denim jacket explains how she used to go to casinos on tribal reservations about once a year, before she moved to Missoula and got swept up in video gambling. She says she would justify the rez trips by telling herself that if she ended up losing, her money would be going to the less fortunate tribal members who needed it more. LaPlante, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, abashedly concurs with her.
“Well, I’m an Indian and I was just paying Indians back for what the white man did to us,” he says, laughing.
LaPlante has been “off the bet” for a year now, but has battled multiple addictions all his life. He says he quit drinking for good in his early 20s, but found himself checking out casinos a few years later on his down time from a job that requires lots of travel around the country, often through tribal lands and their casinos.
“When I decided to get sober I just went to AA and I stopped. With gambling it took me 15 years to stop,” he says. “I liked it. That was when money actually dropped out of the machines and you could hear it.”
The casino visits eventually ate into his other costs. He was late on bills and started dipping into his savings accounts. His success with AA led him once again to seek help from others like himself. When support groups specifically catering to gambling were too tough to find, he sought help from others back at AA meetings, but that only backfired. “I’d go to AA and I’d tell them, ‘I’m a gambler,’ and they’re like , ‘Oh, next time you go to the casino I’ll go with you.”
Having been seasoned in both AA and GA, LaPlante has found the two groups to be very different environments. AA meetings, he says, are usually filled with sociable people who are okay with laughing at themselves and sharing their experiences. Gamblers are much harder to reach.
“When you’re gambling, you’re not really interacting. In fact, you don’t really like people around you,” LaPlante says. “I just find gamblers to be more serious.”
In 2011, he made a plan that had doom written all over it. He moved in with a friend in Las Vegas. His logic told him that the city held nearly 100 GA meetings a week, and he would have the biggest support network to steer his recovery.
The plan didn’t work. He eventually stopped looking for meetings and waltzed right back in to the casinos. When he erroneously made bets on a company card, he decided to come clean with his employer. He says they have supported his desire to get better.
The disgrace of relapsing hangs over him. The possibility of another slip-up is never far away, and last struck LaPlante one year ago when he made his last bet.
“Eventually shame will go away. It has to for a person to recover,” LaPlante says. “To be sober and then to engage in another addiction, that’s part of the shame I feel. Like I should have known better.”
LaPlante continues to go to GA meetings on a weekly basis. In regards to the lack of a phone number to a functioning GA group in the local Gambling Control Division office, he’s not surprised. He doesn’t have any expectations from the state. It’s the individual group’s responsibility to maintain its own exposure and availability to addicts in town.
“It would be great if those people would reach out to (GA groups), but it’s not really their responsibility to do that,” he says.
The system puts the onus on the addict, and LaPlante knows that as well as anyone. He says work will be sending him to Las Vegas once again later this month. He plans to stay with a friend north of the city, far from the main strip. If he can’t handle himself, he says he will simply get in his car and leave the city, probably for the last time.
The names of some Gamblers Anonymous attendees have been changed. Missoula meetings occur Mondays (214-1863), Wednesdays (542-0900) and Thursdays (728-5224).