Robert McGuigan: How Gambling Addiction Killed My Son Part II

Written by:
Jenny Woo
Published on:
Robert McGuigan:  How Gambling Addiction Killed My Son Part II

Part 2 of my interview with the father of Jason McGuigan,Robert. Read what signs Jason was showing for gambling addiction and measures he was willing to take to satisfy his need.  Part 1 of this interview received quite the response and you can read and comment here. regularly addresses the negative impact of gambling as it is our moral obligation to do so.  Please also read my past interview with Dr. Elizabeth Waterman of Morningside Recovery here.

JENNY: Was it your genetic make up?

ROBERT: Genetic make up. Yeah that’s a good term to use. Genetic make up because that’s what it’s part of.  That genetic nature in me. That addictive nature that’s inside of me.

Jason and I were playing Yahtzee. We’re playing Monopoly. And I’m teaching him how to play Ship, Captain, and Crew and other dice games. We’d play for money when we’d play Ship, Captain, and Crew. Granted at the time it was maybe nickels and dimes. I didn’t know it at the time that gambling was an addiction. When I got custody of my son when he turned 13, the games, the fishing, and the camping trips - same thing that I did with my dad - we started doing a lot of Jenny. When we weren’t fishing and camping and our line wasn’t in the water, we were playing Ship, Captain, and Crew. We would always take a couple of his friends with us camping whose mother or dad were not around or were divorced or what have you. We always had a couple of kids with us from less fortunate families. We would sit around the campfire and play Ship, Captain, and Crew for money. So I was teaching other kids. Besides, back then to me it’s just a game. But it’s an addiction that can develop.

I tell in my presentations today Jenny - I can close my eyes now, I can picture my son with the dice in his hand and getting ready to toss. I can see his expression on his face and in his eyes. I could see the addiction was there. The signs were there but I didn’t know the signs. I didn’t know it was an addiction. But he was addicted at 13 like I was at 8.

He continued, he got older, I of course had gotten divorced years prior and I got custody when he was 13. Well as he got a little bit older into high school, he got a hold of the computer. And now I’m talking we just celebrated 10 years – I shouldn’t say celebration – it’s really not but it’s a celebration of his life was 10 years in June.

JENNY: Yes, that’s what I understand.

ROBERT: Yes, June 26th, 2003.

There’s one thing I couldn’t understand. When I had custody of Jason - I didn’t know it - was the school kept calling about my son, “Mr. McGuigan we got a problem with your son. He’s not getting his homework done and sleeping all the time in class.” And I’m going, “God I went to bed at 10:30 after the news last night and he’s sound asleep. He’s getting plenty of sleep.” Yeah boy, what dad didn’t know was when I went to bed - knew when I was asleep - he got back up on the computer to catch the scores of the West Coast games in baseball and basketball to find out where he stood with his bets. And I was like, “Oh my God I didn’t know this.”

I had no idea he was doing this until I was told by a bunch of his high school friends at his funeral. Then I found a bunch of stuff when I went through his personal belongings that went back to his high school days, which now is an indication that well he was pulling a dad. Not only was he playing cards and skipping school, he was staying up and playing on the computer.

JENNY: First, was there not any warning signs or red flags when you were contacted by his school saying he’s sleeping and he’s not doing his homework?

ROBERT:  Yes, they were telling me this Jenny and I was at loss as to why. Well for one I didn’t know the signs for gambling addiction because I didn’t know it was an addiction, which gets to a major point where we’re at today 10 years after his death. Still 99.9% of the schools across this country has no education on gambling addiction. You have it for alcohol, you have it for drugs and you have it for cigarettes. There’s nothing in our system of schools to teach them the other side of the coin.

One of the other things that were happening with my son, which led to a number of arguments with my older brother at the time – by this time my brother was a bookie – my son and him would sit and talk for hour on sports.

JENNY:  Did they gamble together?

ROBERT:  Yep, on sports. They would talk for hours. And I love my sports. I love my Packers, I love my Brewers, I love my Bucks.

JENNY:  Haha.

ROBERT:  But on the same token they went beyond, way beyond. I used to get into arguments with my brother because Jason and him would bet. I kept telling him, “Scoop, please don’t bet with my son. He doesn’t know what he’s getting into to. He doesn’t have the confidence or the ability to understand it. He doesn’t have the money management skills. Please don’t do this.” He would tell me, “It’s just in fun. Just in fun.”

Yeah it was just in fun. And he would say, “Don’t worry if he loses, then he doesn’t have to pay us.” But if he wins, my son expected to get paid. So it became a win win situation for the boy but it turned into a major losing situation for me.

JENNY: I can’t imagine.

ROBERT: I finally reached a point where I couldn’t stop it between the two of them. This is where Jason then started doing the betting with a bookie. Now he’s out of high school. Now he’s going through the host junk, to the casinos. He’s started going there.

Another thing that happens within the addiction, all of sudden it reaches the point where it starts to control you and your thoughts and your actions. I started getting phone calls from his friends telling me that he was playing big time, going up to Ho-Chunk, betting lots of money and I’m going back saying, “No he’s not. How could he be betting big amounts of money when he’s not even working?” I mean they called me too many times for it not to sink in and I started thinking, “My God, maybe he’s dealing in drugs. Maybe that’s how he’s supporting his gambling habit.” I remember him smoking a joint and finding him smoking a little bit. I’m going, “Oh my God is my son into drugs?” You know as a parent you’re concerned.

JENNY: Of course.

ROBERT:  I was concerned with that in high school because I caught him a couple of times. So I’m thinking, “ Oh my God, is my son dealing?” Parent’s worst nightmare. What did I do? One of my friend’s from high school – ironically enough – was the head of the Dane County Narcotics Squad. I gave him a call and told him my concerns and told him, “I think my son is dealing drugs because he’s got a lot of this money supposedly and he’s betting, he’s going to Ho-Chunk and he’s not working and the whole nine yards. They followed him for 6 months because they felt that you know it’s very possible. If they’re seeing him going up to Ho-Chunk they’re wondering where is he getting this money. It wasn’t from drugs. I had no idea until I got a call at work from my aunt, which would have been Jason’s Great Aunt, telling me that she had given him some money that day and that she was awful concerned that he might be thinking of committing suicide because he’s got a gun.


ROBERT: I’m going, “Wait a minute because he’s got a gun? Um, no no no. Something’s wrong Margie because the one thing that my son would not do is - and I never pushed him on it – it was his beliefs. He would tell me that dad I will not go hunting with you. I cannot kill….”

JENNY: I’m sorry can you say that last part?

ROBERT: Yup. What my son told me because he would never go hunting, never. He said, “Dad, I will never go hunting, I don’t want to have a gun, I will not kill an animal.”

So when she told me he had a gun and was thinking of suicide, I’m thinking he’s playing his aunt. And that’s exactly what he was doing. After a few minutes on the phone with her – and I found out oh yeah – after she finally told me how much she gave him I dropped my drawers. Trust me.

JENNY: So how much?

ROBERT: I thought, “If you want to give him a hundred or a couple hundred of dollars to help with his rent or pay this bill or his phone bill or what have you that’s fine.” No. What did she give him? $10,000.

JENNY: What?

ROBERT: Yeah. And I’m talking about a young man who is now out of high school, not working, doesn’t have money management skills and is also educationally slow. You’re going to give this kid $10,000? What the hell are you thinking?

JENNY: Well my question is, was your son that great of a manipulator to get $10,000 out of his Great Aunt?

ROBERT:  Oh yes he was. He was a con artist. As much as dad hates to say that, he was a con artist. He knew what to do and how to press the buttons to get the money from her. Anybody with an addictive personality and anybody who’s got an addiction is going to find their way to get that money for that addiction.

JENNY: Exactly.

ROBERT: Come hell or high water they’re going to find a way. Even if it’s to a point of robbing.

JENNY: At the beginning of his addiction, did he ever steal from you? For example, did he ever steal checks, cash, belongings?

ROBERT:  No. None whatsoever. And what you’re going to learn next is how this addiction changed my son. As I mentioned a few minutes ago, Jason was a very sensitive kid.  Very sensitive, very caring, very loving, whether it be with his animals that he loved – and when people were around him he was just – you wanted a good friend he was a good friend. He was there. Just a beautiful person and a beautiful personality but he had that addictive personality besides.

To this day I cannot believe what I saw and what I heard. After finding out that she had given him the $10,000, I knew right then and there where he was going. He was on his way to the casino. I knew it because his friends were telling me this. He’s going to the casino. He’s betting on sports and betting lots of money. Well I guess if somebody gives you $10,000 - yeah I guess. What did dad do? I called my friend and off we went. I left work, we drove up to Ho-Chunk because I knew damn well that’s where he was going to be.

The next thing that happened – boom we got up there, I walked into the casino and I got a hold of security and I said, “I’m sure my son’s here. He took $10,000 from my aunt under false pretenses and I want to get that back.” They said, “I’m sorry Mr. McGuigan we can’t help you. That’s a family situation. We cannot help you with that whatsoever.” I said, “Wait a minute buddy. He’s also got a gun and may consider suicide.”

Well all of a sudden it changed. Next thing I know I’m up in the security office. Now they’re concerned he’s got a gun and something could happen to their customer’s -their clientele. Boom! It becomes a different ballgame. They told me, “Well we have booked him a room for the night. We comped him a room.” And they used the word comped. So they knew he was coming.

We walked around the whole casino and couldn’t find him. We went back upstairs and talked for a bit and they said, “Mr. McGuigan” – and I asked them, “How much is he gambling?” They said, “We can’t tell you.” I said, “Why?” They said, “Mr. McGuigan, only he can tell you how much he spends. It’s private and we can’t tell you. We will tell you Mr. McGuigan he’s considered a high roller.” I said, “Oh yeah, no wonder you’re comping his room. I guess if I got $10,000, I guess I’d be a high roller.”

I did not know at this time to the extent how much money my aunt had. I would not find that out until later. So we got ready to leave, we started to walk out the door and there he was. He was at the Blackjack table playing Blackjack – remember I never taught him how to play cards – and he was with a couple of his deadbeat friends playing Blackjack. He didn’t see me. I got a hold of security and went back upstairs. Long story short, they called the Sheriff’s department for the county because they weren’t sure what might happen if he’s got a gun. They went downstairs, got a hold of him, looked at his ID, and took him upstairs into a private room where I was at with my friend. The county Sheriff was in there and the security from the casino. He opened that door and there was dad.

You should have seen his face and his expression. He was like, “What am I doing here?” The cops said to him, “Jason, we’re here to talk to you. We understand that you may have gotten some money from your aunt and your dad wants to talk to you.” I said, “Jason, you just took $10,000 from your aunt and I want it back.” And this is where Jenny I saw somebody that day that I did not recognize. He looked at me and said, “It’s none of your damn business.” My son had never ever sworn at me. Never ever crossed me. We never even argued when I had custody. I’m going, “What? He just told me off and he’s swearing at me? None of my damn business?” Cops said, “Okay, Jason just calm down. Let me ask you a couple of questions. Can we search your room?” He said, “Yes, you can.” Cop, “Can we search your vehicle?” Jason, “No you can’t!”

With that, my son got up off the chair, took his right hand, pointed his finger right in the face of the Sheriff, and said, “Now listen here. You have no right to detain me. You have no right to ask me any questions whatsoever. I have done nothing wrong.” He’s yelling, “As far as I’m concerned, I’m walking right out of this room, I’m going down stairs and I’m going to play Blackjack. You can’t stop me.” He walked right out of that room. Jenny, I was seeing somebody I didn’t even recognize.

JENNY: I can’t imagine.

ROBERT: The addiction had taken a hold – even at that point Jenny I had no idea that gambling was an addiction. None.

What happened next it tears me apart. I went to Verona, Wisconsin, small little city outside of Madison to the house where he was living with hopes of trying to get back whatever he might have left from that $10,000. That was the next morning.

I had told the cops. I went to the police department, told them what had happened, and I was concerned a bit but I told them that I really don’t believe he has a gun. I went to his house. The cops followed me and they had stopped at the end of the block. I went half way down the block to where he lived, they stayed at the end of the block, I started walking up his driveway, the garage door opened and there was Jason backing out. He turned around to see if anyone was behind him and he saw me. And he put his foot to the floor. I had to jump.

JENNY: Seriously?

ROBERT: Had I not had jumped as fast as I did, Jenny he would have ran me over and I would not be giving you this interview today. Like I said, this is a totally out of control addicted individual. That’s what happened. I was seeing somebody that – this isn’t my boy. This is not my son. He was somebody that was totally different because the addiction had taken its hold. He didn’t have a gun by the way. The gun that was used to kill him was purchased just 2 weeks prior to the murders.

Going back to him running me over. Trying to run dad over. Cop came up. He saw the cop, they threw the lights on, they came up and they didn’t issue anything to Jason. They had him roll his window down and they said, “We don’t want to have to do any paperwork today, so please listen to your dad.” I tried one more time to get the money from him and to no avail. Jenny that was the last time I spoke with my son and had anything to do with him. 18 months later he was dead.

JENNY: So in 18 months you hadn’t spoken to him, correct?

ROBERT: What I tried to do was get him into counseling and my aunt because she had given him $10,000. It was at this point I was thinking, “What’s going on here. This isn’t my boy. What’s happening to him?” And I still have that part that I’m not realizing that it’s the addiction. Well I tried to get him into counseling. I knew at that point he’s got a problem if he’s trying to kill his dad. Give me a break. We never argued before in all our years living together. And you’re doing this? Nah.

So my aunt, I got her into the counseling as well. She agreed not to give him any more money. That’s what she said and she promised she wouldn’t. Yeah right.

I just got done. That was the last time. I play tough love but I took my tough love too far. You can play tough love, however, you’ve gotta be there and you gotta be strong.

JENNY: Did Jason ever reach out to you in those 18 months?

ROBERT: Yes. He had called a few times and I hung the phone up. I wouldn’t have nothing to do with him. I wouldn’t talk to him at all. My feeling at the point was I didn’t want to have anything to do with him until he had quit gambling.

JENNY: Thus the tough love.

ROBERT: That was the tough love. I still needed to be there and I wasn’t there Jenny. The point I’m trying to make is you can still play that tough love but you still have to be there because what if one of those calls – now he had made a few of them to the house trying to talk to me. I’d pick up the phone, I’d hear his voice, and I’d hang up. What if on one of those calls he was reaching out? Saying, “Dad I need some help.” Dad wasn’t there. Again, I didn’t see him again alive – did not talk to him – that was the last time was the confrontation trying to get the money back. So 18 months later I’m looking at him in a coffin.

I got the call at home from one of his friends telling me to turn on the TV. The next thing I know, there’s the TV and it’s on, they’re showing the police, they’re showing the tape around the building and outside. I’m panicking. I’m calling hospitals. Nobody’s got any idea. Nobody’s telling me nothing. I’m calling the TV stations. Finally one TV station told me, “Well, we know there’s one body. I’m going, “Oh my God.” I called the police department and instead of helping me - and I understand where they were coming from to a point. I got a hold of the police department and all of a sudden they started asking me all these questions. “Was your son doing drugs? Was your son gambling? Was your son….?” I’m going, “Wait a minute. I’m trying to find out what’s going on.” They wouldn’t tell me. They kept asking me questions. They wouldn’t give me an answer. Finally I got so mad that I slammed the phone down. The cop told me later, “You really lined my ears when you hung up that phone.”

Five minutes after I slammed the phone down, Dane County Police – Sheriff’s Department – called me and said they were on their way over. Then they started asking me questions without telling me. They told me what had happened. That he was dead. That he was murdered. First it was one person, then it was later they told me there was a second person, then they told me a few minutes later there was a third person. I’m going, “Hell.” I’m crying. I’m hysterical. I’ve lost it. I don’t even know what time of day it is. I didn’t sleep for over 72 hours. I was a basket case. I’ve been a basket case for a long time Jenny.

JENNY: I’m sure you have been.

ROBERT: It tore me up. There was this beautiful kid and I’m seeing this beautiful kid turn into this individual young man that I don’t even know. Again, at that point I still didn’t know gambling was an addiction. So for 3 years after his – after finding out what have you – then I found out – and really tore the whole family apart – I found out that my aunt who said she would not give him another penny had given him a grand total of $250,000.

JENNY: Are you serious?

ROBERT: I’m serious Jenny. I had no concept that she had that kind of money. I had no idea.

JENNY: And then passing it on to your son at that.

ROBERT: Yup. She was enabling him. She enabled him.

JENNY: Yes, an enabler. You know unfortunately, the ones that love the person that’s addicted the most – the person who has the addiction – the one’s that love him tend to be the enablers. Not saying that you didn’t love him. I can see where Jason’s great aunt loved him so much that she was willing to be manipulated and became the enabler because of the love that she had for him.

ROBERT: Right. Exactly.

When I found out, I didn’t talk to her. I had nothing to do with her even at the funeral because at that time as far as I was concerned she helped pull the trigger. So we did talk and it was on her deathbed. It was a few years later. 

Part III Coming Soon

- Jenny Woo, Senior International Correspondent

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