A Gambler's Serendipity
On the morning of August 9, 2009, I entered my office to find a message on my answering machine from a client, a chief stockholder whose properties I managed: I have checked my bank account and discovered that there is significant discrepancy between the amount shown and the amount you reported to me. Can you explain?
In that gut-wrenching moment, I knew what I had long feared had happened. The time of God’s reckoning had come! But what should I do? I had embezzled a huge amount of money—$1,500,000! Should I run away to escape the charge?
After an agonizing inner struggle, I knew what I had to do. I gathered my strength and what remained of my faith, went to the office of my wealthy client, and confessed.
Without hesitation, my client called the police to report my offense. Soon a foreign detective and a Chinese detective dressed in casual clothes arrived at the office and began interrogating me. I hid nothing. I confessed my embezzlement secret in sobs, with tears falling uncontrollably. After obtaining my voluntary confession, the detectives escorted me to the police station.
My attraction to gambling began innocently. I would often step into casinos with coworkers for pastime fun and entertainment. The hostesses of the casino provided hospitable services by calling customers to inform them about fun events scheduled to take place in the casino. For holiday fun, I would bring my wife and children to the casino. When I lost only several hundred dollars on the gambling table—or a maximum of one thousand—I never felt myself trapped. I could control myself when it came to losing a small amount of cash in exchange for some excitement and fun with my family. But the gambling games quickly became very enticing to me. Gambling addiction has many causes, but a root cause of my addiction may be traced to feelings of insecurity in childhood.
As a youngster studying in a Catholic boys’ school in Hong Kong, I lacked self-confidence and an ability to converse meaningfully with others. Locked in my room, I fed my lonely soul reading popular fiction and listening to rock stars singing on the radio. When I turned 15, my father—a licensed physician who was skeptical about religion and rejected belief in any kind of God—surprisingly encouraged me to attend church activities. Over the next three years, within the friendly environment of the church, my personality changed completely. I became more talkative and made friends easily. And during this time, I became a serious spiritual seeker. I attended Sunday worship and weekly fellowship meetings with youthful enthusiasm. I came to understand the gospel message and personally invited Jesus into my heart as my Savior and Lord.
As I spent more time at church than at home, I fell behind in my schoolwork, and my grades gradually declined. The more passionate I became about my Christian faith, the more irritated my father became with the church. As a result, he forbade me to attend church anymore. In 1988, before I left Hong Kong to study in America, I wanted to get baptized, but my father wouldn’t allow it. He threatened that I would no longer be a member of his family if I chose to disobey him.
The Root Grows
The first years I was in the States, the fascinating city of New York held many enticements for me. I began leading a sort of double life, attending Sunday morning worship and youth fellowship meetings with the Oversea Chinese Mission—even getting baptized there—while drinking and partying on the side. I never formed deep, meaningful relationships with believers at the church but instead chose to hang out with people who did not believe in Jesus and were easy to be around. By the time I graduated from the university, I had stopped going to church altogether. I wanted to be free from guilt and bondage and live a free and easy-going life on my own.
Upon graduation, I got a job as an accountant, which lasted one year. Then I switched jobs to work in an import/export company. After a while, I switched to work in the field of real estate, and real estate seemed to be suited for me! Whenever I made a grand business transaction, I felt overwhelmingly successful and very proud of myself!
Through my work, I got acquainted with my future wife, who was working in another company in the department of property rights. She was not a Christian then, which I cared little about at that time. In fact, I didn’t want to let people know I was a Christian for fear they would measure me by the standard society forms of Christians—that they are perfect! In my heart, I knew I was rebelling against God, but after every momentary repentance, I would resume walking in the old path, feeling deep agony inside.
Over the following years, I became a successful real estate agent, got married, and had children. When the real estate business was thriving, money was easy to make. But when business was lagging, I would suffer without a steady income for lengthy periods of time. Fortunately, my wife’s job was quite stable, so she could support the family when my income lagged.
The Root Fed
In real estate, some really big business transactions can bring in huge incomes, which my ego craved. I made good money, and I also gained the trust of wealthy clients who asked me to manage their thriving properties. In 2005, I completed a big business transaction in real estate that involved a huge amount of investment money, amounting to $14,000,000. I was able to secure for myself a lucrative commission of $160,000 from this transaction. I felt very proud of myself, believing I was in full control of my promising future, destined for success and wealth!
When my commission money was in hand, I headed to the casino, a “valued patron by invitation.” The first day in the casino, I made a cast to gamble on the table with an amount of $8,000. Losing, I was reluctant to leave the gambling table until all my cast money was gone. I kept thinking that I could win back the lost money the next day. However, on the second day, I lost all the cast money again, and the third day resulted in the same outcome. So continued the hopeless chain of gambling addiction—with the tragic outcome of losing the entire $160,000 commission money. I went home empty-handed with no money in my pocket, misleading my wife to believe that I encountered unexpected difficulties in securing the commission payment entitled to me.
At this point, I was trapped. Like all addicted gamblers, I determined to win back the money I had lost. I was like a person demonized by a walking ghost with a void deep in his heart. Every morning, I showed up at my office briefly for routine inspections and to say “good morning” to my colleagues. Then around 10–11 a.m., I boarded a bus or automobile to head for a casino in Atlantic City. I returned home around 7 p.m. without a hint to my wife about what I was doing. Within a week, I would make such trips to the casino three or four times!
Over time, I lost a huge amount of money. My ongoing real estate commissions and the custodial money I earned were never enough to feed my gambling addiction. Because my wealthy clients authorized me to draw on their checking accounts to write checks in varying amounts of $500 or $1,000, I would cash these checks for my use in gambling. I falsified reports and wrote fake documents to cheat my wealthy clients, who continued to trust me. I managed their properties effectively and felt that they were just too busy to catch me embezzling their money. Over the four years between 2006 and 2009, I frequented the casino over 600 times as a valued VIP patron card holder.
The Root Exposed
During the years of my secret gambling, I lied to my wife many times with such words as “business is slow.” In fact, every extra penny I got went into my gambling. I always told myself there was hope I could win back all the lost money—and make even more! But I was in bondage! I could not respond to my children’s loving approaches. My wife, too, felt my aloofness. What occupied my mind was how to deal the poker cards, as well as worry about when my secret in cheating would be exposed. Twice, I climbed to the highest level of the casino, thinking that if someone found out what I was doing, everything would be over. There would be no hope. I had the urge to jump, to end my life right there. But at that critical moment, my thoughts turned to my innocent wife, my children, and my parents. How would they face the tragedy of my committing suicide? My father was an honest physician with a prosperous career. He had always instructed me to do my part well and not have a faulty character. But what if he found out that his son turned out to be a greedy person who embezzled much money under his care in the business—how could he stand the shame? Moreover, if my children found out their dad was a crook, how would they face their future?
I knew for sure the discipline of God was forthcoming to me. Deep inside, I had so much guilt that I wore dark glasses to avoid people recognizing me. However, I reasoned to myself that I should not make things more complicated by thinking too much about it. Besides, these disturbing thoughts would vanish once I stepped into the casino. The surroundings of the casino were flashy with dazzling lights. There was no sky to be seen, no clocks to remind me whether it was day or night. Within these surroundings, I gave undivided attention to casting dice and dealing cards with no interest in anything else.
The night I was detained at the police station, my wife tried to reach me by phone without success. She eventually found out what happened through one of my wealthy clients. My wife told my younger sister and my parents what she had heard about me, which distressed them immensely. They tried their best to bail me out, and unexpectedly, I was granted temporary release from detention to await the trial of my case. Even though my parents and my younger sister did not put any blame on me, my feelings of guilt before these loving family members elevated my pain, agony, and remorse beyond measure!
One day, before the court pronounced my prison sentence, I was sitting in a coffee shop talking to a family member when a man overheard my conversation. He approached and told me his church was nearby and asked if I would like to attend with him. A bit reluctantly, I mentioned that I had not attended church in 18 years, and I would feel uneasy to do so now. I was thinking to myself: A rotten guy as bad as me, how on earth will God accept me? This Christian man answered, “Not a problem! Why don’t you give it a try and come?” Not long after, I found myself sitting in a Sunday worship service at this church! After attending a couple more times, I decided to attend on a regular basis.
This happened in early 2012. At that time, I completed a study course the church offered on curbing gambling addiction. It helped me realize that no matter how messy my situation was in the past, God accepted me unconditionally and would help me to start over again. Having a renewed desire to follow Christ, I got involved in a cell group with current gambling addicts, with the objective of helping one another break the habit.
The time finally arrived when the court assigned the sentencing period: One year to a maximum of three years of imprisonment! Due to the severity of my embezzlement offense, I realized this was the shortest possible sentence.
I was first sent to the central detention center to await interrogations by the state government officials before being dispatched to a prison relevant to my classification. I stayed in this detention center for two full months. At first, I did not understand why I was left there for such a long time, but later I came to realize it was the will of God that I be assigned the job of janitorial cleaning. Other detainees were confined in prison cells 23 hours a day, while in my janitorial job, I could move around freely. My duties included washing and drying the clothes of the detainees, cleaning the toilets and bathrooms, and mopping the floors. I often witnessed to others, telling them: “I am a Christian. Today you are in unwholesome surroundings with four walls confining you, yet they cannot confine the love Jesus has for you. Nothing can hinder the power of His love!”
Eventually, I was dispatched to a prison which housed 400 inmates, located in northern New York State. My wife had to drive eight hours from home to visit me in the prison. I spent more than nine months there, with marvelous opportunities to grow spiritually through services conducted by visiting pastors and preachers. I looked to God to make my firm belief in Christ obvious to all.
In prison, many inmates practiced a variety of gambling games to win food, cigarettes, and other items. Some gamblers even ran their own businesses, operating gambling sites on the outside. The prison cells became mini-casinos! God inspired me to compete for a position as a prison representative. As such, I was able to relate to prison officials and set up a “cooperative group” for addicted gamblers. Fifteen inmates joined the group, where we discussed the unwholesome problems gambling brought to the inmates and their families. I encouraged the men to attend Christian worship services and Bible study classes, for I knew the way to curb gambling addiction successfully was not through conventional social theory methods of self-help or behavioral social channels. Only God could change a gambler inside out completely, making him or her a new creation by His power to become a new person in Him.
Toward the Goal
Praise God for His faithfulness! I left Him for 18 long years, yet He never left me without hope of rescue. By God’s mercies, I was released after serving just one year of imprisonment—and beyond anything I ever expected, the judge restored my real estate license which had been suspended due to my embezzlement offense.
When I returned home, I knew I had to tell my children the truth. My son and daughter were then 10 and 11 years old. In tears, I told them I was very sorry for my wrongdoing, having hurt them so much as my children, and even more, my wife! I told them that it is because I have Jesus in my heart that I have the courage to confess my past wrongs, and I assured them that when they make mistakes, they can come to Jesus and confess, and truly repent of their wrong deeds, and He will surely help!
Today, on the back of my business cards, I have printed a Bible verse found in Philippians 3:13–14: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” I want to live the rest of my life fully surrendered to Christ’s rule over me, honoring Him as my Lord, and glorifying His Holy Name.