Robert McGuigan: How Gambling Addiction Killed My Son (a Jenny Woo Exclusive)

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Jenny Woo
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Robert McGuigan:  How Gambling Addiction Killed My Son (a Jenny Woo Exclusive)

Jenny Woo here switching things up a bit to bring you the other side of gambling. All of us who are successful in the gaming world have seen the great things that come with that success. However, what happens when the gambling takes a hold even when the success has run out or never took place. I had the chance to do an interview with Robert McGuigan, the father of Jason McGuigan, who’s life was taken too early all because of a bet.

In this multi part interview, Robert will tell us how gambling started in his family, how the addiction took over his son Jason, and what price his son and the families involved paid because of the addiction of gambling.

JENNY: I want you to tell your story. I emailed you involving your son Jason, however, the story that you are about to tell is a lot grander than just your son Jason. So lets start from the beginning and you start your story.

ROBERT:  I guess what you can derive from this whole story is how the gambling addiction started in the family with just a friendly game of cards. It led to the murder of my son.

I grew up in a small town of approximately 600 people. In this small town there wasn’t a lot to do. My dad, my brothers, and I would go fishing and camping like other families did. My oldest brother didn’t like the outdoors. He didn’t like to fish, camp, or any of that. Well when the rest of the family went to go fishing he was going down to the local restaurant, going into the back room and learning how to play Pinochle and Poker. At around 8 years of age he was learning the cards.


ROBERT:  As it transcended, my older brother at around 13 or 14 years of age – again he didn’t like to fish, hunt, or camp – he started playing on a regular basis at the little café that we use to go to. Well what really took off what was happening at home. On any given weekend – it was almost every weekend – on a Friday night, Saturday, and on a Sunday, you could come to the McGuigan home and there would be anywhere from 4 to 6 tables of high school students playing poker.

There had been a slower community at Blanchardville, Wisconsin and there were two other slower communities – actually 3 were within about a 10-mile radius of Blanchardville. There would be kids coming in from those other communities. If they wanted to get a card game going, they knew where one was going to be at and where they could go play poker. That was at the McGuigan household.

At 8 years old – my brother would have been 14 – so I started playing poker when I was around 8. I was learning how to read the faces, how to read the movements of all these different players and card players that were coming in the house on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to play poker. By the time I was 9 years old you did not want to sit down and play a game of cards in the game of poker against me. I was that good. In fact it got to a point my older brother would not even let me sit in and play when there was an open spot. That was very few and far between because when the kids came a bunch of them would be waiting in line for somebody from one of those tables to end up losing all they had and there would be an empty seat for them to take. This would go on into the early morning hours especially during the summer. Not so much during the school year but during the summer where they would be congregating to the early morning hours 2 or 3 in the morning playing Poker. We’re talking high school students.

I learned how to play. I moved from Blanchardville, Wisconsin to Madison when I was 13. Guess who carried on the family tradition of the poker games in the house? I did. I eventually began playing. I continued on playing into my Navy days. After I graduated from high school I continued on playing. I also picked up dice and was playing all kinds of different card games, Poker, Spades, Euchre, Dirty Clubs, Dice, Ace Deuce, you name it.

JENNY: I don’t even know what half of those are. Haha.

ROBERT: Well they’re card games. Trust me.

I continued on my way. As a matter of fact I was so good, when I was in the Navy I was sending my paychecks home to my mom and dad because we were dirt poor. That help support them. I lived off my winnings. What ended up happening, we would all be stuck in the middle of the ocean, we’d be sitting down playing some poker, the guy across from me loses the rest of his paycheck and he’s gotta survive for the next two weeks. What did he have to do? He had to borrow money from me. So every five dollars that I loaned out, I got seven back. I didn’t have to touch any of my money. I came out with a real nice savings. My big mess paid when I came out.

JENNY: I bet.

ROBERT: Then I gambled one time when I got out. I got married and lost it all. Haha.

JENNY: Haha.

ROBERT: So I came out of the Navy, met a young woman who liked to play cards, and I ended up teaching her Poker. What did we do the first few years of our marriage? We were hitting the circuits. We were playing dirty clubs, Euchre tournaments, Poker tournaments and we would have people over playing on the weekends playing Poker. What was interesting about this whole thing Jenny is during this period of time – I’ll never forget it – we were driving home from a tournament and that’s when my wife at the time told me she was pregnant. That was the last time I picked up a deck of cards and played poker.

JENNY: Really?

ROBERT: It was like a light bulb went off Jenny. All of a sudden it hit me. I said, “My God. I’m going to be a father. I’m going to be a parent. I’m going to have responsibilities.” And I took that to hold. But I was addicted to gambling. It was a big part of my life. How I quit? I don’t know Jenny. It was just cold turkey.

JENNY: I was about to say, cold turkey. You quit cold turkey.

ROBERT: Right. Exactly. To give you an indication how strung out, how much gambling had a hold on me – you gotta remember I started at 8. When I was playing in high school, my elder brother had to go to bat for me to keep me in school because they were going to throw me out. Why? Because in four years time of high school I skipped over 300 days doing nothing but playing Poker.

JENNY: That’s almost a full year

ROBERT: A full school year is a 180 days.

JENNY: Yes. That’s almost a full year but two full school years.

ROBERT: I missed 60 days one year, 90 another, 121, and about 60 or 70 another year – in all four years. The only reason why I graduated was for the one simple fact – not only did I lose my whole high school years of my socialization of going to the baseball games, the basketball games, the football games, going on the buses, and going to the dances. I’m socializing by playing cards. So every summer I had to take summer school classes. So not only did I ruin my school year but I ruined my summers. In the end, the school didn’t want me back because they felt that I was a bad seed causing these other kids to skip. There were a group of us. There were six of us. But I didn’t know that was an addiction. I had no concept. No idea that gambling was an addiction.

My brother, well, when we moved to Madison – remember he’s 6 years older than me. What is he doing? All of sudden, he’s working for Oscar Mayer. What does he do? He starts his way to the cards and playing Poker. He started running buses in the parking lot of Oscar Mayer in Madison to the Arlington Horse Racing track in Arlington, Illinois. He was running buses. He picked up a nickname. The nickname he picked up was “Scoop”. Just like a scoop of ice cream. That was his name. He got it because he was so good at picking out horses. People were paying him to place the bets at the track and they would give him a percentage of the winnings that they won. He continued on that. He went from the horses and he got let go from Oscar’s. I don’t know the reasons as to why he got let go, however, I have good feeling that part of the reason was too many people that were going on the buses were either A: supposed to be going to work and they were skipping work or B: when they were coming back from the track they weren’t going to work because they had too many on the bus. So he lost his job. What does he do? Now he goes from a person pushing cards to betting on the horse racing.

Here’s the next step from that from the horse racing, he runs into what I call the “Fast Characters” at a little bar on the south side of Madison where he ran into these gentlemen. They got to know him and they asked him if he would consider setting up accounts throughout the city and to different – then we call them taverns now they’re called pubs – and set up the pubs with Parlay Cards. Are you familiar with Parlay Cards?

JENNY:  Yes.

ROBERT:  Ok. I had no idea how ideal those Parlay Cards were. Unbelievable. So he set up all these places in Madison with Parlay Cards. Even today, you go into the pubs – you go walk into a pub in Madison – Do you know Scoop? Chances are yup. Chances are that pub still has the Parlay Cards. And guess who set them up? My brother.

Now he’s doing the Parlay Cards. I’ll never forget it was the New Years and my brother called me. He had fallen down,  broke or sprained his ankle, and couldn’t walk. He had 4 places he had wanted me to go and me take him to so he could pick up Parlay Cards. He got all his other accounts covered completely. Those were the first stops that needed to be picked up. Jenny, we walked out of those four spots with over forty thousand dollars of wagered in those Parlay Cards.


ROBERT:  I turned to my brother after the first pick up and said, “You’re putting me and my life in danger.” He said, “No I’m not.” I said, “Yes you are and because of the amount of money we’re carrying.” And he’d say, “Nobody knew that.” I said, “You want to make a bet. You’re walking into a place and the owner’s greeting you and going into his room and then you’re walking out with a big wad of money in a paper sack. They don’t know what you’ve got? Give me a break.”

He continued. He went from the Parlay Cards to them asking him a few years later, “Hey, how bout let’s start a booking operation?” And he did. He became one of the biggest bookies in the city of Madison. If he went to Vegas, he’d go there a number of times and they comped him.

What did I do? I got out of the Navy. I got married. I got a son and had stopped playing cards but the gambling blood was still in me. The addiction was still there. I started playing and teaching my son how to play dice games.

JENNY: You did?


JENNY: Out of fun?

ROBERT: Yes. It was out of fun.

JENNY: But do you think your addiction for cards had something to do with that?

ROBERT: My addiction?


ROBERT: Of course. Like alcohol or drugs it generally tends to run in the families. It’s in your blood. It’s like a gene.

JENNY: It never goes away. Even if you might for example go to rehab for alcohol addiction or drug addiction and you haven’t drank or done drugs for 20 years that addiction is still there. That devil on your shoulder will always be there trying to temp you.

ROBERT: That is correct. That why when you go to an alcoholics anonymous meeting they’re going to say, “I’m an alcoholic.” You know because you still are.


ROBERT: It’s only going to take that one drink. That one sip and all of a sudden it’s going to tip it back the other way.

JENNY: Exactly.

ROBERT: With gambling, in the industry, it’s considered the cocaine high because of the rush and the adrenaline you get of placing that bet. You’re holding that hand or your watching that team and the Packers are on the 40-yard line and you know if they score you’re going to win. You got that rush.


ROBERT: It’s the cocaine high.

JENNY: So here you are teaching Jason how to play dice.

ROBERT: Right. I started teaching Jason how to play dice. The interesting thing is along with that personality because it has a lot to do with it – your personality, your make up – and which Jason taking after his dad had that make up.

I’m teaching Jason how to play dice games. Now when I was kid growing up I didn’t just play Poker. I played Monopoly, Easy Money, and at that time they didn’t have Yahtzee at that point. Yahtzee came into being a few years later but I was addicted to those games because of the adrenaline, the rush I would get from winning. It was in my blood.

Jenny Woo, International Correspondent

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