Ex-gambler experiences God’s power
while on long road to merciful recovery
By Allen Palmeri
October 26, 2004
JEFFERSON CITY – John Hartin speaks with authority concerning a recently released study by Harvard University, paid for by the Kansas City Port Authority, which said Missouri had 39,000 problem gamblers last year.
Hartin was one such statistic in the 1990s when he gambled away an estimated $500,000.
“I feel for the people who are in the insanity of that addiction, because I know there are thousands, just like the report said,” said Hartin, 49, a sales representative for an iron and steel manufacturing company in St. Louis. “As far as my insanity every day, I saw 80 percent of the same people 80 to 90 percent of the time. This industry gets their base of people who are going to lose, lose, lose, lose.
“I was a problem gambler. It was my decision, but I affected 50 people. If there are 39,000 problem gamblers, multiply that by 10 and that’s probably not even close to the number of people who are affected by this behavior.”
Hartin started gambling in high school, when he would go to the racetrack to bet on horses. Later on in life, at age 33, when his wife, Liesa, was pregnant with their third child and the couple was building a home, Hartin became hooked on gambling.
“It began an 11-year nightmare for me,” he said.
He went through five different jobs and thought about suicide for three years. He drifted in and out of four treatment centers as he gambled away hundreds of thousands of dollars. He is hesitant to talk about how he was able to do this, saying only he was “very good at getting money.” He did say he was jailed once, for one day, because of his gambling habit.
“It’s a miracle I’m talking to you right now,” Hartin said.
Liesa filed for divorce twice, in 1995 and 2000, but God held their marriage together. The Hartins are members of West County Community Church, Wildwood, a Missouri Baptist Convention congregation. In November, they will have been married 19 years.
“She never did really want the divorce,” John Hartin said. “It was clear that she wanted me to get well, so it was just a matter of family and friends and Pastor Phil Hunter, who counseled us both.”
In 1997, Liesa Hartin testified before the Missouri House Ways and Means Committee that she had to work four part-time jobs just to keep her family going while her husband was wasting their income at the casinos.
“The material things don’t even matter,” she testified before the panel of state representatives. “The greatest sadness was to watch the man I loved turn into a degenerate. He would do anything to get back in action. Last year (1996) he even pawned his wedding ring. All this (came) over his obsession with the gambling boats.”
Like all problem gamblers, Hartin needed to hit rock-bottom with his obsessive wagering before he could escape its grip.
“I didn’t care about anything except having money to bet with,” he said. “If I slept, which was not very much, I had gambling dreams. I was tormented 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, because of my sin.”
In 1999, he had an encounter with God that led to him being baptized. He was clean for eight months before losing an additional $80,000 gambling in 2000. That was when he checked into his fifth treatment center, in Baltimore. He felt like it was his last chance.
After eight weeks, he emerged a new man. In November, by the grace of God, he will be free from gambling four years.
“I knew if I did not quit the gambling I was going to lose everything in my life—even my own, maybe,” he said. “So I guess I was ready to quit and finally, really, let God take over and try to be obedient to what was right. It was the final page, probably, in what had already begun, with an unfortunate setback in between.”
Hartin explained how he, as a Christian, became a problem gambler.
“It was just a downward slide,” he said. “Basically, I had turned my back on God. My sin was gambling and total destruction and I didn’t care about anything except placing my next bet.”
He now makes himself available to speak so that people will avoid making the poor choices he made.
“Unfortunately, this industry is not going to go away,” he said. “They’re going to spend millions to get new locations. They’re going to spend millions to advertise, to entice, to get people to be hooked on this. The best thing would be to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”