Her Gambling Addiction Took Everything From Her. What She Found Gave It All Back

September 25, 2017 11:55 am Last Updated: September 30, 2017 4:30 pm

“In a couple months, she won over $10,000. Her addiction to gambling returned in all its fury … She fell deeper and deeper into her addiction. When she had only $2 left in her bank account, she got a high-interest loan. And when she was no longer able to get a loan, she started to borrow from friends and relatives. That wasn’t her original plan when she came to the United States.”

When Jenny Chen moved to New York from China in 2001, her plan was to start a new life, settle down, and start a business. But her dreams were shattered by her out-of-control gambling addiction. Her losses accumulated to nearly $200,000, but she still stubbornly believed in her luck and ability to win everything back.

Finally, deep in debt and despair, good fortune smiled on her. This is her story.

From Mahjong to Compulsive Gambling

It was a sunny, bright day. As usual, Jenny left her Brooklyn apartment building at about 8 o’clock in the morning. She passed a park where a group of people were doing some slow-moving qigong exercises that kind of looked like Tai Chi.

A few blocks down the street, she stopped in at a bakery for an egg tart and milk tea. While sitting down to enjoy her breakfast, subconsciously her hands felt for her handbag. In it was over $2,000, her bets for the day.

Jenny was born into the kind of family that most Chinese people envy. Her parents are senior government officials in the southern city of a special administrative region in China. She also used to work in a high-powered government position.

But her personal life took a turn for the worse when, at age 24, she started playing mahjong (a tile-based game similar to rummy) with some colleagues for money.

She became captivated by the thrill of winning, and soon became a compulsive gambler. Even after getting married and having a daughter, she could not let go of even a tiny bit of her urge to gamble. Before long, her husband couldn’t endure it any longer. He beat her, drove her out of their home, and divorced her.

Inner Demons

After her failed marriage, Jenny came to the United States alone, hoping to start anew with a successful career. However, when she got to know the way to a casino one day, she could not help but go inside. The whirring, chiming slot machines and clicking casino chips quenched her appetite for action. She said to herself: “Only once. And if I lose, I will not come back again.”

Yet, as people say, there are “little devils” in casinos. They try to hook you by letting you win at first. Then, once you cultivate the addiction, you will start losing money.

Jenny won that day. She was so excited, and went back again and again. She never lost during that period, and it made her believe the “god of luck” was with her. In a couple months, she won over $10,000. Her addiction to gambling returned in all its fury.

Still, a voice in her heart reminded her every so often, “You should stop now before you lose.”

Before long, however, another voice in her mind began haunting her: “It’s so easy to make money in casinos. Why should I look for a job, work hard, and make less?”

While she was struggling with her inner demons, it happened that the casino she liked visiting was looking for a bus conductor. She applied, and was offered the job, which she happily took. She said to herself, “This is just a job, not gambling.” But she was just fooling herself.

Fog of Lies

Jenny fell deeper and deeper into her addiction. When she had only $2 left in her bank account, she got a high-interest loan. And when she was no longer able to get a loan, she started to borrow from friends and relatives.

When Jenny’s mother called one day and asked whether she had bought a house as she had originally planned after moving to New York, Jenny lied.

“House prices went up too much,” she said. “I can’t afford to buy right now. I’ll buy when prices drop.”

Soon, Jenny was living on cheap groceries, and skipping meals, and her friends would no longer answer her phone calls.


Feeling she had no other options, she called her 70-year-old mother and confessed to her situation.

Jenny’s mother was very unhappy, but still helped Jenny pay off all the debt. She asked her daughter, “From now on, can you think of your mother when you feel the urge to gamble again?”

Jenny replied: “Sure, sure, mother. I swear. I won’t bring more than $10 with me. Only $10!” Yet in her heart, she knew she was too weak to resist her desire to gamble.

At this time, she thought of finding an answer through religion, but soon went back to gambling. Her debt grew to some $200,000, and along with that her desperation swelled.

Dawn of Good Fortune

As the Chinese saying goes, “When misfortune reaches the extreme, good will surely arrive.” Despite her inner demons, Jenny never forgot that what she was doing was wrong. She just did not know how to stop.

Perhaps it was with this thought that she happened to pick up a copy of a newspaper one day on the casino bus that had a story about a person who quit an addiction to mahjong after taking up Falun Gong, a traditional Chinese spiritual practice.

Jenny Chen doing one of the meditation exercises of Falun Gong | Courtesy of Jenny Chen

Jenny thought, “Maybe I should give it a try.”

She had met some practitioners of Falun Gong several years before. They gathered at a park near her apartment every morning to exercise. Jenny had even once learned the movements from them, and her symptoms of hyperthyroidism had disappeared.

Jenny had also learned that Falun Gong’s teachings encourage people to be a good person by following the principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance, but Jenny felt this standard was too far out of reach for someone like her. So, despite the health benefits she gained, she did not continue.

Now in despair, and with the faintest of hope left, she thought of giving it another try.

Quitting the Addiction

Jenny rejoined the morning exercise in the park, and started to study the book Zhuan Falun, the main text of Falun Gong, whenever she had a free moment.

She came to understand that Falun Gong’s principles were not too far out of reach after all, as they were characteristics she already had deep within herself. It was just a matter of working hard to let go of her bad habits, and learning to practice self-restraint, so she could get back to her true self, rather than drifting further and further away.

For Jenny, gambling was the first thing she had to conquer. She decided to stop playing baccarat during her casino work hours, and sat and read Zhuan Falun instead.

A few times, she felt the familiar itch to play, but her frequent studying of Zhuan Falun reinforced her desire to do the right thing, and she was able to overcome the unhealthy urges. Each time this happened, she regarded it as a test of her will.

Gradually, the desire to gamble went away completely, and what seemed impossible before came true: Jenny successfully quit her gambling addiction.

A Bright Future

Today, if you ask Jenny about the $200,000 that she lost, she is very calm. She remembers what is taught in Zhuan Falun: “If something is yours, you will not lose it. If something is not yours, you will not have it even if you fight for it.”

Jenny also feels that Falun Gong is not as hard to practice as she had imagined. As long as practitioners put in effort, and have the heart to do their best, everything will naturally change for the better before they even know it.

With the turnaround in Jenny’s addiction, many things indeed changed for the better. What meant the most to her was regaining the trust of her friends and family.

Her best friend told her: “I notice you have become more and more kind and compassionate after practicing Falun Gong. It is really good for you.”

Jenny Chen’s gambling addiction controlled her life, but after learning Falun Gong she was able to let it go | Courtesy of Jenny Chen

And seeing the change in Jenny, her mother wired her money to buy a house. Jenny bought a three-story house in Flushing, Manhattan’s Chinatown.

Jenny told a friend: “My mother would never have given me so much money before. She dared not, afraid that I would lose it all in gambling. I feel so good that she has so much trust in me.”