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Layman overcomes gambling addiction, uses past to witness to others

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–In 1993 Dave Thomas moved his family from Florida to escape creditors and legalized gambling.

He knew his family had suffered there from his gambling addiction and that he needed to curb his gambling, especially on horse racing.

Having moved to Tennessee where there is no legalized gambling, Thomas nevertheless found illegal gambling was available through card games and playing numbers.

After a few years in Nashville, Thomas was offered a dream job by a man he met while working as a truck driver for a chemical company. The man was anxious to help Thomas who had won him money while gambling.

The dream job, however, would allow Thomas to drive to Illinois so he could gamble there on the weekends at the casinos. His route also would take him through states where he could buy lottery tickets.

On Aug. 2, 2000, however, Thomas made a profession of faith while attending a service at Nashville’s Two Rivers Baptist Church. That decision changed his life and he turned down the “dream” job.

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When Thomas sees former fellow gamblers, they often comment on the fact that he no longer gambles. He lets them know, “The Lord changed me.”

He is still glad he lives in Tennessee, where it is more difficult to gamble than in most states. Thomas also is glad because he can join in the fight to keep the lottery from becoming legal in a statewide vote Nov. 5.

Thomas is committed to helping fight the lottery because it played a key role in his addiction to gambling.

He recalled when he moved to Florida he saw signs as they crossed the state line: “Welcome to Florida. Play the Florida Lottery.”

Thomas, who had already begun to gamble before moving to Florida, began spending $2-$3 a week on lottery tickets. He justified it because of the low cost of the tickets. His other justification was to help his family. He dreamed of buying his parents a better house.

Soon, however, the few dollars he spent weekly on lottery tickets grew to $50 by playing the daily “Cash 3, Cash 4, or Pick 5” tickets.

Then Thomas was introduced to dog racing where his addiction increased.

He began asking for advances on his salary and borrowing money from friends and family.

In the 10 years Thomas and his family lived in Florida, they moved 11 times, often in the middle of the night, to avoid landlords. Many times utilities were cut off and they didn’t know the source of their next meal. All this happened despite the fact that Thomas worked in well-paying jobs the entire time and never missed a day of work.

After moving to Tennessee, Thomas’ life changed dramatically on that August night at Two Rivers when he heard evangelist Ken Freeman of Texas speak about freedom robbers.

Although he was “scared to death,” he committed his life to God.

He did it although he believed he wouldn’t have anything to live for without gambling and the adrenaline rush he received while gambling.

But he soon realized he would get his adrenaline rush from his relationship with Jesus.

That decision to accept Christ not only changed his goals. It also changed his way of thinking.

As a result Thomas developed a ministry of helping former gambling friends, gamblers and other people God leads him to.

He goes to Kentucky convenience stores and gives people buying lottery tickets a tract he developed.

While working as a truck driver in Kentucky, Thomas heard a Christian radio station broadcasting information about gambling. He called the show and developed a relationship with the staff. As a result he has been interviewed on the radio several times and has spoken in churches in the area. He also has given his testimony about his gambling addiction at several churches in Tennessee.

Thomas admits life without gambling is not easy. “I’m still fighting it, still staying with it.”

He asked his wife, Zarona, and his daughter to write about their experiences when he gambled. He keeps them with him to remind him of the pain he inflicted and he often reads them when he speaks. He has tried to make restitution to friends and family by paying them money he borrowed and apologizing. He realizes some of those relationships will never be mended on earth.

What motivates him, Thomas said, are the victims of gambling, especially the children. If Tennessee legalizes the lottery Nov. 5, he asks, “How many church people will start playing the lottery who do not think there’s anything wrong with it?”

“Everything comes at a price,” he said.

Concerning the upcoming vote, Thomas knows he’s on the winning team no matter what happens.

“I won’t lose because God doesn’t ever lose.” A state lottery, he said, with its costs to addicts and their families, will just allow him to witness to more gamblers.
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