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How millennial grew wealth, paid off debt after gambling addiction

Published by Daniel Brooks Moore on

In 2011, Ambus Hunter said his only debt was a car lease and he had $2,000 in savings — then he visited Las Vegas for the first time. 

He became entranced by the “highs and lows” of roulette, he told Insider. When he returned home to Ohio, he kept gambling regularly at casinos in Indiana and Pennsylvania.

Initially, it was all fun and games. That November, roughly six months after his Vegas trip, he had over $11,000 in savings, according to bank statements viewed by Insider. But then things quickly came crumbling down. 

He said he saw his losses build but he couldn’t stop. Over the course of just four weeks, he said he lost roughly $10,000 — almost all his savings — playing roulette.

Hunter recalled a November evening when he withdrew a significant portion of the remaining money in his bank account and told himself he’d gamble just one last time. He said he lost half of it in 30 minutes, and then burned through a bit more before leaving the casino with “maybe a couple hundred” dollars left. 

That night, he said the reality that he was nearly “out of money” finally set in, and he committed to beating his gambling addiction. 

“I had become so obsessed with gambling that I was no longer taking care of myself. I wasn’t eating, sleeping, lost complete focus at work, and, for the first time in my life, got behind on a credit-card bill,” he said, adding: “I needed to make a change before I dug a hole I couldn’t get out of.” 

Over a decade later, that hole is beginning to become a distant memory. 

Today, the Baltimore 36-year-old has a net worth of roughly $600,000, according to various documents viewed by Insider, which reflected roughly $750,000 in savings and investments and $140,000 in mortgage debt. He works as a program manager supporting the US Department of Defense and has a part-time gig as an accredited financial counselor.

Hunter said he’d had one major hiccup since he committed to quitting gambling but that he was able to get back on track. In hindsight, he said he should have sought out more gambling-addiction resources but that he was too “embarrassed” and “stubborn” to do so at the time. 

Hunter. Ambus Hunter

How to dig out of a big financial hole

After quitting gambling, Hunter said the first important step was to take accountability for the situation he’d gotten himself into and accept he was never going to get the money he lost at the casino back.

“I wasn’t beating myself up, just owning my decisions and reality,” he said. “That actually gave me peace that if I got myself into that mess, I could get myself out of it.”

He said he set out to quickly replace the roughly $10,000 he’d lost.

To accomplish this, Hunter scrapped cable and home internet. Instead, he said he tethered data from his cellphone. He said he stopped dining out, lowered his thermostats, limited his social life, and didn’t spend on anything else he deemed “nonessential,” which he said was pretty much everything except rent, groceries, utilities, gas to get to work, and his car payment.

In addition to working his full-time job, Hunter said he took on two part-time gigs as a mystery shopper and a brand ambassador.

Four months later, he had $10,000 in savings, according to bank statements Insider viewed, but he didn’t stop there.  

For those looking to save, Hunter had three pieces of advice: Be “crystal clear” about what your financial goals are, make a plan for your money each month and stick to it, and “leverage automation when possible” through automatic savings mechanisms like direct paycheck deposits and 401(k) contributions.

‘Casinos and gaming platforms are designed to keep you coming back’

When it comes to gambling, Hunter said he would tell any client of his to “proceed with caution,” especially given the surge in gambling access — much of it tied to sports betting — across the US.

“Casinos and gaming platforms are designed to keep you coming back. Gambling addiction activates the brain’s reward system similar to how drugs do, so it’s important to understand the risks of developing an addiction,” he said. “Everyone has to find a healthy approach that works for them. For some, that might mean abstaining 100%.”

In addition to his experience, Hunter’s assertion is backed up by research. Timothy Fong, a codirector of the UCLA Gambling Studies Program, previously told Insider that sports betting, in particular, was “a product that we know is addictive.”

“Here’s an American appetite for that product,” he added. “And then you combine the forces of a very powerful and effective industry combined with technology. This is where potentially it could go really bad.”

After his experience, Hunter is concerned that the US’s gambling boom could have major consequences for some people.

“Sadly, some people are going to end up with their lives negatively altered forever,” he said. “This level of gambling promotion and access, especially through our cellphones, is very new to our society. And whenever we get a new, shiny ‘thing,’ we tend to overconsume.”

He added: “I’m not trying to stop the industry. But we need to also focus on education so people can truly play responsibly and feel supported should they need help.”


1 Comment

Daniel Brooks Moore · July 3, 2023 at 1:11 am

I love Ambus’ story! It’s a real story about rebounding and bouncing back from a serious detrimental low. I’m inspired by his story particularly because I’ve bounced back myself and am continuing to move forward in a much better direction. These days I feel like I’m breathing fresh air after far too long of an absence.

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