Marcia  was hesitant about Jean when on their first date he mentioned he really liked gambling. 

“I asked him if he liked camping and he thought I said gambling,” she explains. “His eyes lit up. He asked how I knew that about him. ‘Knew what?’ I wondered. I was a little taken aback.”

For Marcia, gamblers were unpredictable and reckless with money, the opposite of what she, as a single parent, was looking for in a partner. But then Jean explained his gambling history—he’d been playing backgammon for money since his university days. He never played just for fun, there had to be money involved.  He was good. He had won backgammon championships in Vegas several times. He also knew when it was time to stop and never went overboard.

Marcia agreed to continue seeing Jean. She would soon learn that, far from being unpredictable and reckless, Jean had spent many years working at a 9-5 government job until he retired and was now living off his government pension. He never gambled with his pension money but instead used his “play money”—his backgammon winnings and, she would later learn, cash he earned from collecting vast amounts of cans and bottles.

“He spends a lot of his time collecting bottles,” says Marcia, “and a lot of his time playing backgammon. But he’s retired so he has the time. And it’s what he likes to do. Plus, he feels good about recycling.”

As someone with no interest in gambling (and not particularly comfortable with a partner who picks bottles for play money), Marcia says it took time to fully understand and accept her now-husband’s favourite pastime. 

“I tried to relate by thinking about what brings me pleasure. I thought ‘he loves backgammon’ and ‘I love skiing.’ Then I considered what was similar and different about the two. I guess the biggest difference is around risk. Yes, there’s risk in skiing. But for me it wasn’t the same kind of risk as losing money. Over time, though, I recognized that if Jean was down, say, $200, he’d stop playing and wouldn’t play again for a month.”

Marcia says she had to open her mind to new ways of thinking about both money and games.

“He plays the stock market the same way,” she explains. “It’s a game for him. He invests in high-risk stocks, but only with his play money. It’s for fun, not some long-term goal that requires a careful or balanced approach.”

To think about – or discuss with a friend

  • Where do we get our ideas about gambling and gamblers? How might those ideas affect our lives?
  • Is gambling at all like skiing? Is risking money similar or different than risking injury?
  • Gambling and relationships can be complicated. What makes Marcia and Jean’s relationship work?