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He didn't know when to fold 'em

Arnie Wexler placed his last bet 47 years ago, but he remembers all the pain he caused his wife, by lying about money and where he was. He was often unreachable, once while his wife was suffering a miscarriage.

Wexler, now a gambling addiction counselor, has put his life story into the book "All Bets Are Off: Losers, Liars, and Recovery From Gambling Addiction." It is available via Central Recovery Press, a Las Vegas company that publishes materials addressing addiction treatment and recovery.

Actually, it is more than Arnie Wexler's story. Arnie and his wife, Sheila, who moved to Lake Worth from New York about 21 years ago, are listed as co-authors, with former Newsday sports columnist Steve Jacobson as a third. ,

Throughout the book, Arnie's stories of gambling addiction and recovery are complemented by Sheila's accounts, giving readers the perspective of what it's like to live with a compulsive gambler.

"I'd cry all the time," she writes. "Sometimes I'd cry all night long." She remembers her anger that she couldn't reach her husband the night of her miscarriage. He had lied to her about working late, but was at the track.

Wexler, 77, says he started gambling by age 14 while growing up in Brooklyn, flipping cards, shooting marbles and playing pinball machines. That led to sports betting and countless hours at racetracks. He gambled even while managing 500 people for a dress company's shipping operations, piling up debts, lying to his wife about depositing money in the bank (he gambled it away) and taking her on "dates" that consisted of nights watching horseraces.

"When I won, I was as high as a kite," he says. "I had money to bet tomorrow. Compulsive gamblers know no boundaries, and have no off-season."

Wexler started attending Gamblers' Anonymous meetings at age 21 in 1968, and has gone ever since. He was director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling in New Jersey from 1984 to 1994 before he and Sheila went into business for themselves. They run a national gambling help line, are consultants for Recovery Road addiction center in Palm Beach Gardens and train casino workers to spot and intervene with problem gamblers.

Casino employees often come up to them and admit to having the traits of a compulsive gambler, Arnie says.

"The big secret in the industry is the problem is as big behind the table as it is in front of the table," he says. "They get addicted when they see the money flying around."

There are many more options to gamble now than when he was an addict, Wexler says. Lotteries and casinos have expanded, and Internet poker has boomed. That's why now about one-third of his calls come from people between ages 12 and 30, he says.

"It's an explosion. These kids are playing poker, and they think they're infallible," he says.

While the actual number of problem gamblers cannot be determined, support groups estimate that about 1 percent of all gamblers are "compulsive" and about 5 percent have a problem. Wexler also notes that gamblers usually only ask for help when they have lost so much they are deep in debt.

Gambling help lines in Florida include the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling's 1-888-ADMIT-IT, and Wexler's 1-888-LAST-BET.

The Wexlers' book costs $16.95 at CentralRecoveryPress.com.

Nsortal@SouthFlorida.com

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