Former Good Morning America Weatherman Spencer Christian admits he was living a double life while on the air at ABC.
He was the lovable weatherman, but he was also an addicted gambler and it took a toll on him.
He found out he was part of an FBI investigation.
He was more than relieved, then, when the FBI agent told him a yearlong probe of his banking activity — prompted by frequent, flag-raising withdrawals — had found he’d broken no laws but clearly had a problem.
“This is the point where I should have realized I needed help,” said Christian.
After growing up “a poor black kid” in the segregated South and attending college, Christian went on to a “storybook” career in journalism and broadcasting, he said, eventually becoming a familiar face on network television.
He moved to New York City in the late 1970s, right about the time casinos arrived in nearby Atlantic City, N.J.
When he and a buddy visited Resorts International, the first casino to open on the boardwalk, Christian was smitten with “the energy and excitement.” He played blackjack, roulette, craps and slot machines, he said, in “an atmosphere that was so electric, I didn’t want to leave.”
In time, his level of play increased. He approached “high roller” status and by the early 1980s had been extended lines of credit at casinos all over Atlantic City and Las Vegas. He stayed in luxury suites and scored tickets to shows. In Las Vegas, Caesars Palace would pick him up at the airport and reimburse his first-class air fare.
By the mid-'80s, he was suffering “huge, regular losses.”
“I was still paying my bills but I was sinking into debt,” Christian said. “I started to have feelings of guilt, shame, self-loathing …”
In 1984, his credit maxed out, he ran afoul of the Internal Revenue Service for unpaid federal income taxes. The agency seized his house, tacking a notice on the front door for all to see. His first bankruptcy followed, erasing his casino debts if not his back taxes. He briefly quit gambling.
But Christian relapsed while with “Good Morning America,” where he shared air time with the likes of Charles Gibson and Joan Lunden from 1986 to 1998. Assigned to human-interest stories in remote locations, he’d stop at casinos before returning home, visiting Las Vegas when he was west of the Mississippi River and descending on Atlantic City when he was in the East.
His “second stage” of compulsive gambling was worse than the first, Christian said. He was earning more money than ever and gambling at a higher level.
In 1999, he moved on to the ABC station in San Francisco, where he still works. It was then, as he teetered on the verge of financial ruin, that the FBI agent called. A second bankruptcy followed, his plight becoming the stuff of supermarket tabloids.
He quit gambling again for a couple of years, then traveled back to Las Vegas and decided to limit himself to poker, only to “start sinking into the pit again.”
Christian said the turning point finally came several years ago when his daughter Jessica visited him in San Francisco and confronted him. She was planning to marry and “bring grandchildren into my life,” he said. “She asked if this was the model I wanted to be, if this was the way I wanted to be remembered. It hit me like a ton of bricks.”
After gambling for some 30 years, Christian was able to stop for good without professional help but said he endorses Gamblers Anonymous and programs like it. He said he was "saved" by the support of the loved ones with whom he's restored relationships and that writing "You Bet Your Life" has been cathartic.
“I don’t think I’m typical,” he said in response to an audience member's question. “The vast majority of those with addiction continue to feel the urge (to gamble) after they quit. I don’t. I’m done with it. … I realized I can’t handle it.”
“I hope my story shows recovery is achievable,” he said.
H/T The Day