Like a great many American males, my introduction to the wider world of gambling came through my father.
Money was tight growing up in the early 1970s, so my entrée into gaming was far away from Las Vegas, Atlantic City and all the other ritzy casino capitals around the world. My first experience with wagering actually took place when I was 10 years old or so in Nova Scotia at a small rural racetrack that ran trotters with sulkies. We were visiting my father’s extended family—farm owners that raised an occasional horse, one of which happened to be in this race. I remember the racing window, my father placing a bet, hustling back to the track to watch the race—all very exciting to a child, even when the horse failed to place.
Back home in northern Massachusetts, my father’s chances to bet were few and far between, for the most part just an occasional visit with coworkers to Wonderland Park in Revere to watch and wager on the greyhounds. That all changed when he switched jobs, and ended up in a factory where someone ran a sports betting pool. One day he brought home a betting slip to fill out, which my older brother and I saw and were immediately fascinated by, being huge sports fans and knowing all the football teams on the slip. My father explained, as best he could to two small boys, the ins and outs of point spread betting and the potential rewards. We told him we wanted to try, and the next week he gave us a slip; telling us he would submit the slip for us but it was up to my brother and I to provide the money to wager, which I believe was $4 or so. We were so sure of ourselves—after all, how hard could it be to pick winning teams?—that we somehow managed to scrape the money together, sure we would get it all back and then some. But of course we didn’t, and we failed to do so again and again until we grew tired of the losing and stopped, learning some very valuable lessons along the way—never bet above your means, know when to cut your losses and being good at betting is extremely difficult.
My father didn’t last long with the sports betting either—he found something he enjoyed much more: playing the state lottery. Massachusetts had just legalized it, and a milk delivery driver a few streets over had won big, to the tune of $100,000, which was a lot of money back then. This was a person he knew, who won big bucks wagering only a dollar or two. He was hooked, and played his “numbers” once or twice a week for the next 45 years. He eventually created a spreadsheet to keep track of winning lottery numbers, claiming that, somehow, it helped him choose numbers with better odds of hitting, though he never really won big.
Later in life, my father gravitated toward lottery scratch-off tickets, where he actually found some success. He enjoyed them so much that he started to add them to the Christmas stockings, so he, his wife, his children and grandchildren would all be busy scratching away Xmas morning, sharing the joy of a win or the disappointment of a close loss.
So looking back on my father’s life, I guess you could say he really, really enjoyed gaming as a casual hobby and participated in it without suffering any undue hardship, something I believe millions of other people have done as well. Maybe he never “won the big one,” but his pleasure in placing the occasion wager has passed on to one of his sons, who in turn has found much satisfaction covering the activity he enjoyed so much. I will always be indebted to him, in this and in so many other ways.
Rest in peace, Thomas J. Doocey (1934-2020)