Author Topic: Compulsive gambling  (Read 4904 times)

TheGrimSqueaker

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Compulsive gambling
« on: May 24, 2015, 09:58:23 PM »
So, a friend of mine is a professional athlete in an obscure sport. Let's call it Underwater Macrame. In this sport, there are five ways to make money:

1) Having a school where you teach other people (by far the most lucrative if your location is good, you have teaching skills, and you're willing to spend time doing the entrepreneur thing),

2) Competition. Events are set up with sizable entry fees, and the winner generally takes all. You can win admission to other competitions, and travel packages to the most high-profile events, and a few cash prizes. For the most part, the size of the cash prize does not exceed the expenses associated with tournament participation, although at the elite Whizbang level and the semi-pro level a consistent winner can make a small amount of money. Generally it's a "gentlemen's" sport, in that it takes money to compete. Even "professional" athletes are very seldom paid to compete, unless it's a very special exhibit match between two elite Underwater Macrame competitors, where there's a fee to appear and compete, and a purse for the winner. These competitions are rare, and few athletes compete in more than two or three per year.

3) Endorsements, which are limited because of the obscurity of the sport, and which are mostly worth diddly-squat because, from the endorsing company's perspective, they don't generate sales.

4) Sponsorships, although most of these are in-kind donations of gear. The vast majority of sponsorship is when an athlete's family or friends give him or her a plane ticket, cover a hotel cost, or simply donate in order to allow the Underwater Macrame artist or team to compete.

5) Selling overpriced gear and equipment to the up-and-coming Underwater Macrame athletes, or putting on competitions where large numbers of them pay to enter, but only a handful win their respective events.

Back when I had a quarter million air miles and a bunch of hotel points from several years of business travel for my employer, I helped a friend of mine with plane tickets, hotel rooms, and such. It didn't cost me anything, and some of the air miles were in danger of expiring if unused.

This friend of mine had just advanced to Whizbang level Underwater Macrame competition, but was going through that awkward early professional career where a lot of competition is necessary to build the kind of reputation that attracts endorsements and makes a school or gear company feasible.

Some back-story is required.

My friend had taken a lot of risk over the years, at times risking rent money in order to pay for a competition. At that time, due to the event my friend qualified for which was less than the most elite level, it was a case of a shark among goldfish. Naturally gifted in terms of talent and work ethic, my friend was so much ahead of the rest of the competition as to consistently win despite competing while sick, injured (Underwater Macrame is a full-contact sport), tired due to having driven a long distance to compete, or otherwise at a disadvantage. So at times my friend would literally bet the rent: spend savings or money that was allocated to another long-term purpose in order to compete far out of state, and "have" to win in order to pay the bills at home. At the semi-pro level, it worked, due to the whole shark-among-goldfish situation.

Sometime later my friend got promoted to the most elite Whizbang competitor division. There's nothing more extreme available in Underwater Macrame. But, because this level of competition is where all the pros hang out, there aren't any more goldfish left. It's all sharks. So the skill discrepancy that allowed my friend to dominate at the semi-pro level no longer exists. Due to the rules of the sport, it's not possible for a Whizbang competitor to step back down to semi-pro.

The result of this situation is an awkward Early Professional Career phase, which happens to nearly all Underwater Macrame competitors. It's generally made easier, temporarily, by friends and family who help out the struggling athlete (like they would help a struggling musician) until the new pro either starts to make money or gives up and goes into investment banking.

Hence the donation of plane tickets and hotel room fees: I wanted to help my friend through this awkward start-up phase.

In addition, I helped provide equipment for my friend to set up their own Underwater Macrame school, although it was in an unsuitable location and my friend did not have a business plan or sufficient start-up capital. I had my reservations, but friendship is friendship. Overall, I provided about $7000 worth of aid over three years, mostly in the form of these travel points which I couldn't keep long-term anyway due to the airlines that issued them. Point-derived benefits cost me nothing to provide, the benefits would have disappeared if they hadn't been used. I'm glad I did it, and I'm not sorry. During these years, my friend was able to compete (and win) more comfortably and consistently due to having reliable transportation and a safe place to sleep on the road. I'm not the only person who provided sponsorship in some form or another. But eventually I ran out of points, and had to taper off with the help.

Trouble is, there's no end in sight for this difficult start-up phase. It's gone on for four full years, two years longer than normal.

My friend's school has not been a success for a variety of reasons. Some relate to its location, and the fact the equipment is substandard (the water tank leaks and is barely deep enough for introductory braiding). Most of the problems relate to the fact my friend is still focusing more on competing than on running a school. You can't teach effectively if you're competing out of town, because without the constant attention of a senior instructor, Underwater Macrame students tend to wander off in order to study other things, such as the related sport of Submerged Knot Tying. So it took two solid years for the school to break even. During this time, it ate up my friend's savings including a cashed-in 401(k) from the job my friend quit to become a professional Underwater Macrame athlete.

Having a school and responsibilities generally makes most athletes in this sport more conservative: they stop competing for a few years and focus on building the school, which eventually becomes big and successful enough to allow them to compete however they like. My friend abandons the school for weeks or even a month at a time, leaving it in the hands of a senior student, in order to travel, compete, and conduct specialized seminars. In fact, competition-wise, my friend's risk-taking behavior has resumed. No matter how much my friend has set aside, there's always some short-term opportunity to risk it all. This isn't casino gambling or a scratch-and-win fixation, mind you: if someone makes sure my friend has money for the most important Underwater Macrame competitions, that friend will "bet the rent" again: lend the money to a broke relative who is in jail and needs bail money, who's "gonna" pay it back but who of course doesn't, or drive three days for a tournament that has a big travel package and cash prize only to lose to someone who's less skilled but better rested. In an all-shark environment, that's pretty much a guaranteed loss regardless of the motivation level of the competitors. The wins don't come easy now, since my friend is no longer a shark among goldfish, but they did happen back when I could provide plane tickets and hotel support, but without that support, my friend ends up competing while tired and stressed after a long drive. And losing, which means no cash prize.

Either way, just before the registration deadline for the most important, my friend is hard up for cash due to self inflicted problems, even if everything was good to go just a few weeks before. Instead of skipping the competition, though, my friend goes into shoestring budget mode and "makes it happen" by basically borrowing money or a car, and going into shoestring budget mode, driving for days, sleeping in the car, and otherwise ensuring they arrive at the venue exhausted and uncomfortable.

Generally, competing tired, hurt, or out of shape is something recreational players do. The odds of winning are slim to none, because underwater macrame is an intensely physical sport requiring great concentration. A slight error results can result in a painful or even physically crippling loss due to someone else's superior finger crochet technique or ability to hold their breath. An athlete who needs to win because they've bet the rent had better make sure they arrive with functional oxygen tanks. My friend doesn't... and therefore is consistently losing.

It appears to me that my friend has a compulsive gambling problem, and just can't resist the opportunity to go for the short-term gain, regardless of the long-term risk or loss. There's no casino nonsense involved, just an obscure sport and an athlete who's, well, making decisions that result in a financial clusterfuck.

Is there anything at all that can be done, besides delivering a heartfelt warning, stepping back, and letting nature take its course?

Otsog

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Re: Compulsive gambling
« Reply #1 on: May 25, 2015, 12:45:34 AM »
What's the actual sport?

Tenlha

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Re: Compulsive gambling
« Reply #2 on: May 25, 2015, 06:12:59 AM »
I'm sorry for your friend. I think you should provide emotional support, but you shouldn't throw good money after bad. Perhaps you should review the concept of "sunk costs".

GuitarStv

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Re: Compulsive gambling
« Reply #3 on: May 25, 2015, 06:50:50 AM »
Jesus, painful to read.  Reminds me very much of some of the guys I knew who were competing in MMA.

It's not necessarily compulsive gambling for your friend.  It's more that he has done this for so long that it's become his identity.  His life is inextricably intertwined with this sport.  He will continue to try to compete well past his prime, against the advice of doctors, family and friends because of this.  He sees this as the defining part of who he is.

I know that doesn't help your problem much, but may give you some insight into why he does what he does.  The only way to really approach this is to try and change his mind on the importance of competition vs his students.  His only real future is to focus on his school, but for guys like this the idea of really retiring can be very hard and lead to some bad depression type stuff.

My 2 cents.

forummm

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Re: Compulsive gambling
« Reply #4 on: May 25, 2015, 07:02:42 AM »
He should know that at this point, it's his hobby, not his business. The business side is the school. That needs to pay for the hobby, or he should take up a more lucrative business like cubicle typing to pay for his hobby.

TheGrimSqueaker

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Re: Compulsive gambling
« Reply #5 on: May 25, 2015, 06:32:10 PM »
What's the actual sport?

Competitive beer drinking. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0486551/

Just kidding!

Seriously, though, I can't answer that question because of Forum Rule #1. This is an obscure sport with a small community, and everyone knows everyone else. I've published my location in other threads. If I added those two pieces of information to what's in my original post, it would conclusively identify my buddy, which isn't cool. I'm not out to humiliate anyone.

Based on the other comments, it sounds to me like I've already done everything I could. Pity about the train wreck but I don't think I've got the power to stop it.

The only sunk costs I have, as such, were the gifts related to the school start-up. For competition sponsorship the plane and hotel support came from points that didn't cost me anything to get, that would have expired if unused, and that I wasn't in a position to use myself before the deadline. No loss there. But the points did run out, so they're not available as a resource now (and they'd have expired anyway if they hadn't been used).

I'm not considering using any part of my income or savings to make up the shortfall so I can continue sponsoring. It would be different if my friend needed life-saving surgery, but that's not what's occurring.

My friend has the Constitutional right to liquidate their retirement savings so as to set up a school that runs a very low probability of succeeding, and also to bet the rent on the next competition. Pursuit of happiness, they call it. But it doesn't mean I need to risk anything of mine on such a fuckheaded thing.

shelivesthedream

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Re: Compulsive gambling
« Reply #6 on: May 26, 2015, 12:53:34 AM »
Whatever your friend's problems, I am finding your descriptions of Underwater Macrame intensely funny. I mean, gee, who knew it was a full body contact sport?? And that the pool had to be big enough for introductory braiding?? Please continue with this analogy!

forummm

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Re: Compulsive gambling
« Reply #7 on: May 26, 2015, 06:27:25 AM »
My friend has the Constitutional right to liquidate their retirement savings so as to set up a school that runs a very low probability of succeeding, and also to bet the rent on the next competition. Pursuit of happiness, they call it. But it doesn't mean I need to risk anything of mine on such a fuckheaded thing.

Yeah. Don't be an enabler. Or hurt yourself as well his him.

hernandz

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Re: Compulsive gambling
« Reply #8 on: May 29, 2015, 07:09:55 PM »
Whatever your friend's problems, I am finding your descriptions of Underwater Macrame intensely funny. I mean, gee, who knew it was a full body contact sport?? And that the pool had to be big enough for introductory braiding?? Please continue with this analogy!
plus one on admiring the analogy. It so creative the sport could only be amateur poor. Olympics or naked volleyball

Duchess

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Re: Compulsive gambling
« Reply #9 on: May 30, 2015, 04:40:22 PM »
Given it's the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Championships this week and even the black belt gold medallists don't get any prize money, I'm guessing the sport/martial art is BJJ. This story reminds me of so many people who've chosen to train full-time and struggle to make a living following their passion.

sleepyguy

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Re: Compulsive gambling
« Reply #10 on: May 30, 2015, 09:22:48 PM »
Honestly this is pretty much the same way with 98% of tennis "Pros".  Majority of the public don't know pretty much the top 200 players in the WORLD make a good living, the rest pretty much are fighting for 'scraps' or playing on the lower pro circuits (Challengers and Futures) which sadly earns nothing.

Unless you have serious sponsors, or are "wild carded" into main ATP events.  Making money as a pro is extremely hard.

TheGrimSqueaker

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Re: Compulsive gambling
« Reply #11 on: May 30, 2015, 10:09:50 PM »
Gang, as much as I appreciate the creative guesswork, please don't invest too much brainpower into trying to figure out what the sport is. I lied pretty extensively about the details of the sport to make it funny and to make sure my buddy's identity is protected.

It's been fun (and disturbing) to see which of the details about the sport were taken seriously, and which were ignored. The mental image of my buddy's sport as some kind of martial art gave me a bit of a giggle. It really gives new meaning to the MMM adage of someone "needing a facepunch".

The other thing that's surprised me is just how many other sports have the same problem: a recreational activity for adults gets commercial, maybe even fashionable like MMA or golf, and suddenly people expect to be able to make a living by competing or performing in it.

Duchess

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Re: Compulsive gambling
« Reply #12 on: May 31, 2015, 09:44:58 AM »
Specifics of the sport aside, it seems like you have been very supportive and I'm sure others have been too. It's good that you have taken a conservative approach to helping your friend and that it hasn't really cost you much.

From the information provided, now might be a good time to draw a line under any practical/financial support. Essentially what your friend has learned so far is that he can chase after his dream, take risks and there will be people who bail him out. Although he would probably argue differently, he hasn't really had to make any extremely difficult decisions (e.g., prioritising his school and students above his own competition aspirations).

He may think that achieving his long-held aspirations will bring him happiness but both sport psychology research and observations of athletes suggest that attaining such goals don't really lead to long-term contentment.

arebelspy

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Re: Compulsive gambling
« Reply #13 on: May 31, 2015, 10:08:46 AM »
This sounds like a hobby to me, not gambling. Hobbies often cost money. Sometimes they make money, but it's a long shot. Just like your friend's hobby.
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