For many years my guest today, Jason Haddigan, lived off the proceeds of gambling of various kinds, including betting on horses, dogs and his own snooker/pool skills.
On the road for years, he took to scamming bookmakers across England and Scotland. He also regularly gambled in Las Vegas and for a time, in Mexico. A winner and loser of sometimes breath-taking amounts, he eventually ‘lost everything’ and ended up in prison, and banned from most betting shops nationwide.
He now advises politicians, professionals and reformers as well as encouraging youngsters to steer clear of temptation. He is currently involved in the campaign to restrict the scope of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs).
How and Why I Conned the Bookies is the true story of a gambler out of control. Author Jason Haddigan spent much of his life on the road, scamming bookmakers to fuel a gambling addiction that simply meant him returning virtually every penny in lost bets.
It is a roller-coaster story that begins on England’s south coast as a child feeding fruit machines with pocket money and only ends following his extradition from the USA after playing and losing in the casinos of Las Vegas. In-between are his daunting accounts of a chaotic early life in the shadow of his father, also an inveterate gambler one step ahead of his creditors, always needing to sell up, move on, and finally to go on the run.
It tells of how the parallel world of gambling can destroy everything: marriages, relationships, home life and all normal values. A compelling, true account of problem gambling. Opens-up a twilight world of betting, casinos and scams. Highlights temptation and manipulation of gamblers. Highly topical due to Parliamentary and media debates.
Jason Haddigan is seen here with the women again! Recovering after a recent hospital appointment!
Published by Waterside Press, How And Why I Conned The Bookies is available from their website: http://www.watersidepress.co.uk/index.html
Here, to whet your appetite, is an extract -- Chapter 11 Florida and Vegas
I turned up at Dave’s at seven in the morning. The alcohol had started to wear off but I hadn’t slept a wink. I needed to lay down and I prayed I’d catch him before he left for work. Dave answered the door in his dressing-gown and was shocked to see me. We hadn’t seen each other for over a year. He told me he hadn’t been working for the last six weeks. ‘Work has simply dried up, Jase’.
‘Do you fancy coming to Florida with me?’ I asked him, whilst having coffee in the kitchen. God knows why I said Florida!
‘I’d love to go to the States Jase, but I’ve only got a grand saved-up’. ‘I’ll help you out Dave; I finally took Weston for his dough, so this holiday will be a gift from him’.
The State of Florida didn’t have any bookies or casinos, so that was a plus for me too. If you wanted to have a bet, you had to go to the race track, or get a taxi-boat and go three or four miles away from land. That taxi-boat would drop you off at another boat and that was the casino boat.
Dave still didn’t like to gamble. It just wasn’t his thing, but I persuaded him to spend an hour with me on the casino boat. It was our last day and I really didn’t care if I lost all my money. I knew I could always have a few days away with Dad and get some more. I thought about Jack whilst I was on that taxi-boat, I missed him. And then I realised I hadn’t seen him for two weeks. I hadn’t bothered ringing Sarah either. In my eyes, she was now a nasty grass! Anyway, I wasn’t going to start feeling depressed. I was having the time of my life in America. We stepped onto the boat, and the first thing I noticed was the croupiers standing at their roulette and blackjack tables. They were all Mexican! They gave us unusual stares. Something didn’t feel right. Dave headed to the on-board bar and ordered us some drinks and I headed straight to a roulette table. I handed a Mexican man $400 in cash and he gave me $400 in chips. My first spin was a loser, my second and third spin also lost. Number 32 is my favourite number and it came in on the fourth spin. Whilst the croupier was pushing and sliding all the losing chips down the hole, I checked how much I had on 32. Ten dollars. So the croupier should have given me back exactly $350. The roulette odds on a single number in the States are exactly the same as in the UK, 35 to 1. The croupier pushed a stack of chips towards me that totalled $280. He had not only paid me short, but he had paid me a whopping $70 dollars short. I told him what he had done, and he said, ‘Me no English, me no English’.
I told another Mexican chap who was standing by another roulette table, and he said to calm down whilst he sorted it out with the croupier. Calm down! I hadn’t even raised my voice! After a few minutes of Spanish language passing back-and-forth, the croupier finally handed- over my $70. I left the table, joined Dave at the bar and told him what had happened. He agreed with me that something about the place didn’t feel right; he said it felt ‘too clicky’. So we agreed to leave. Dave asked the barman how we got the taxi-boat back and he said, in his Mexican accent, ‘Everly hour. Taxi come back everly hour!’
‘Don’t you mean “every” mate,’ I thought?
So we had 45 minutes to wait until the next taxi-boat came and got us and I didn’t dare go back on the roulette table. I went and played a slot machine instead. The jackpot was something like $2,500,437.10 and all you had to do was get three red sevens in line to hit it. I looked up at the jackpot a few moments later and it now read $2,500,439.50. That’s right, the more dollars you fed it, the more the jackpot increased. After ten minutes, I was losing about $50 to it. I fed it another $10 bill, and on the tenth spin the first reel landed a red seven, the second reel a red seven, and the third reel seemed to spin forever. As it was still spinning I shouted to Dave to come over. We watched that third reel spin and spin and spin. ‘Go on, you effing beauty,’ I shouted. The reel finally stopped … And it did not land on a red seven, which would have made me a millionaire. But I suppose the consolation was that after changing the dollars into pounds and paying gambling taxes to the State of Florida I would have in those days only ended up with about £700,000! ‘Did you just say only, Jase? … Whatever is up with you?’
I’ll tell you what was up with me. I was a disturbed gambler. I know that if I had seven hundred grand in my bank account I would try my God damn hardest to pump it up to a million. If I lost my first bet, say for example, 20K on an even-money chance, then I’d be involved, and I would chase. And I kid you not, that seven hundred grand could be lost in a day. But, if I backed a few winners, and pumped it up to £1 million, then I’d want to turn it into £2 million. Crazy eh? The millionaires and billionaires reading this book and who are now living in a rented room will understand exactly where I’m coming from!
The third reel landed on a round circle symbol, and in that circle were the words ‘Multiplied by Four’. The red plastic alarm on top of the slot machine started flashing, and a siren noise screamed out of it. Dave pointed to the pay out menu on the machine and told me I’d just won ten grand. Seconds later, four Mexican staff were hovering around us, talking fast in Spanish. Then all of a sudden one of the Mexicans slapped me on my back and said in perfect English, ‘Congratulations, you’ve just won $10,000, don’t forget we Americans like a tip’. Americans? ‘You’re bloody well Mexican mate!’ But all of a sudden his English was perfect! A croupier took a picture of me standing next to the slot machine and told me it would be stuck on a wall alongside those of other winning punters. I wonder if it’s still there today. I must remember to take a trip to Florida soon to check if my beaming, smiling face is still there for all to see. The casino boss paid me in $100 dollar bills. As he counted out the last of these I told him to keep it for a drink. I put the wad of cash in the front pocket of my jeans and the taxi-boat arrived, dropping people off. Dave and I jumped on board as quickly as we could and sailed towards land. As soon as the boat got there I thought about going back to the casino, to try and pump it up a bit more. Dave read my thoughts, and said we should go get drunk, and pull a few birds. I resisted the Devil voice in my head and listened to Dave instead.
We arrived back at Gatwick and went our separate ways. Dave travelled South to Portsmouth and I headed North to Spalding. As soon as Sarah opened the door we started arguing again. I had told her I’d be staying with Dave for a couple of weeks and she pointed out the stunning suntan. So I stayed at Dad and Jo’s that night. Jo didn’t want me there, but Dad was buzzing, especially when I told him all about the American women and the slot-machine pay out. He was buzzing even more when I gave him a grand for a drink.
I woke up next day and had a count up. I had £6,800 left. I didn’t want to be in Spalding, I wanted to be where the ‘action’ was. So I popped into a local flight shop and booked myself another holiday. A flight to Las Vegas! I also changed most of my sterling into dollars, keeping just a few English notes for my train fare and hotel. The main reason I changed the money so quickly was because I knew I couldn’t risk getting involved in a bookies on the way to London and end up losing my stash. English bookmakers only accept sterling. The flight cost £600 and the hotel I chose, the Luxor, was going to cost £900.
I booked for six nights and worked out I’d have the same amount to spend each day. Fantastic! Next day, I hopped on a train and travelled to Gatwick. After checking in and going through security, I walked towards the duty free area and treated myself to a carton of Benson and Hedges and a litre of vodka. I’d heard a ton of amazing stories about Vegas, punters winning eight, nine and ten million dollars on fruit machines. Yeah, that’s where I belonged.
I was going to make it big in Vegas, or so I thought …
I arrived the next day and was blown away by it all. Even the airport was full of slot machines. I travelled by cab to the Luxor and couldn’t believe the sights. The hotels were out-of-this-world. I didn’t ever want to go back to England. I was a 22-year-old young man holidaying in Vegas on my own and had £900 to spend every day. I felt like a king. I paid the driver and gave him a tip. ‘Well thank you, young man, be sure to have a nice day,’ he said ‘and be lucky too’.
The Luxor is built in the shape of a pyramid. It seemed as if it had five thousand rooms. It was gigantic! I checked in at the enormous reception desk, paid for my six nights stay plus $300 deposit in advance and headed to my room for a shower. The elevator didn’t go up-and-down, it went across diagonally. The whole set-up was mesmerising. The room had two Queen-size beds and a Jacuzzi. It felt like I was living in a dream. I showered and put on my best jeans and shirt. I wanted to impress! I took the lift diagonally to the ground floor and looked for a bar. I needed a drink to calm my nerves. The rush of excitement was continuously pounding away inside me. I was back in the reception (lobby), I walked about 20 feet, and then BANG, it hit me. The casino! It was amazing. I remembered my first poker den with Dad, seeing those beautiful green cloth tables. This casino was a thousand times bigger.
‘Keep pinching yourself Jase! Are you dreaming or what?’
I spotted a bar right in the middle of the casino. I sat at it drinking whiskey and taking everything in. It was a gamblers paradise. ‘Do not get involved Jase,’ that second voice said to me. I spotted a woman croupier spinning a ball at a roulette table. She looked stunning. ‘Do not get involved, Jase’ the voice repeated itself. I approached her table and she asked me if I was having a good time.
Did she seriously just stick her boobs out to me? Just have one spin, said the first voice. I had long ago decided to name the voices ‘The Devil’ and ‘The Angel’, and I don’t think I need to tell you which one was which. I told her I had just landed in the States and gave her £500 for some chips. She was spinning the ball and pleasantly chatting to me, and I was losing! I was placing my chips on number 32 and also eight numbers to the left and eight to the right of it. Basically I was betting on 17 numbers out of 38. Just a little under 50/50. Spinning, chatting and losing. More spins, more money, more chips, and more losing bets. One hour later I had lost every single dollar. I didn’t even save a dime for a drink. I got up from my seat and slowly started to walk towards the lift. In the background I heard the croupier say, ‘Have a nice day’. ‘Have a nice effing day? You vile nasty woman,’ I thought. ‘Oh, I get it now, you were supposed to say that to me, knowing full well I’d be pissed off at that remark, so that I’d get more cash, and lose it to you’. God, I thought the settlers and cashiers in the UK were friendly. USA croupiers and cashiers took it to another level!
Everything now seemed dull and gloomy. The bright lights and the sound of coins dropping from slot machines was all just a con to entice compulsive gamblers like me to part with their dough. I thought I was a good con-man. I thought my Dad had taught me well, but I was the one who had just been sucked-in and conned! I arrived in my room, lay on my bed and watched the ceiling spin round. The dizziness kicked in with full force. I didn’t want to be in Vegas any more. I wanted to be in England with a normal job and a normal wife and a normal life. I wanted to finally fall in love. I fell asleep and woke the next morning still wearing my best shirt and jeans.
I showered, packed my belongings, got in that pathetic diagonal lift and headed towards the lobby. I miserably told the receptionist I was checking out and she gave me $1,100 back in cash. She flashed her super white teeth at me and said, ‘Have a nice day’.
I walked to the nearest roulette table. ‘Don’t get involved Jase!’
‘Have just one spin Jase!’ I told The Devil to clear off. The Angel kept quiet. I had $300 on black and it came in red, then $400 on red and it came in black. I then carefully placed my last $400 on the odd numbers section and the ball stopped on No.32. Yeah, my favourite number had finally popped-up as I bet my last few bucks on the odd numbers. Add up the all the numbers on that table, Jase. Yeah, 666! When will you ever learn!
Depression, anxiety, dizziness and sickness hit me like a bullet from a gun. I was in a strange country, 5,000 miles from home, and didn’t have one dollar to my name. I didn’t have a room to sleep in and I didn’t know how I was going to eat and drink for the next five nights. My survival mode kicked in, and I got a taxi to the airport. When I told the woman driver I’d lost my wallet and would pay her the $20 fare next week, instead of ‘Have a nice day’ she said ‘You English bastards are all the same!’
I told the woman at the flight desk a big fat lie that my brother had been shot in the eye and that I needed to get back to the UK as soon as possible. She asked to see my passport and return ticket, and started tapping away on her computer. ‘No problem sir, I can get you on a direct flight in three hours’ time, but you’ll have to pay an excess charge of $475’. I looked straight into her eyes and told her the truth about my roulette experience of the last 24 hours. Wow! I finally told the truth! She gave me a ‘Tut, tut’ and started tapping away on her computer again. After five minutes of watching her tap away, she finally spoke again, ‘OK, sir, I’ve got you a flight. It leaves in 14 hours’ time, and the journey is going to take a total of 37 hours. ‘You are going to have to change at Dallas, and I’m afraid you’ll have to wait there for your connecting flight for 25 hours’. ‘You are a star,’ I replied. A star?
What the hell was I supposed to do for the next 14 hours, oh and then there was that tiny wait of 25 hours in Dallas. My thoughts got interrupted when I heard a woman screaming, standing next to a slot machine. She had just won $12,000! ‘If only you were playing that machine eh, Jase!’
I checked in, went through security and headed towards the smoking lounge. I had 14 hours to kill, so I got the bottle of vodka from my bag and started drinking and smoking. Eight hours passed and I suddenly became hungry, so I walked towards a Burger King and asked a server if I could have a brief chat with the manager. After a few minutes, he arrived. He was seven feet tall and must have weighed 20 stone. ‘How can I help you, sir?’ he kindly said.
I pointed to a random lady sitting on a seat and said, ‘Yes, I’m sorry to bother you but my wife, sitting on that seat ordered some food from you guys (‘Guys? you’re not a bloody American Jase’) about ten minutes ago. She left it on the seat because she had to use the bathroom, and when she came back the food had gone. And she is too embarrassed to come over and talk to you’. ‘Oh man, that’s just pure crazy, there is no-one to be trusted in the great States of America no more, what did she order, and I’ll replace it right away’. ‘Oh, it was just a double king burger and fries’.
‘And was that small, medium, or large sir?’. ‘Oh, it was large,’ I lied once more.