Recovering sports gambling addict sees increasing need for treatment at center he founded in Richmond

10 On Your Side

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) – Robert Cabaniss was hooked on “the action” long before the days of DraftKings, Fanduel and MGM. He says money was his drug, and for 40 years he was overdosing.

“I didn’t see the losses. I could only see the wins,” Cabaniss told 10 On Your Side.

It started when he was a student at UVA where he ran a football pool. “And the dean came in and said you can’t do this anymore so we stopped. But of course dumb Bob, I didn’t stop gambling, and I got a bookie and it got progressively worse.”

For 40 years, Cabaniss bet often and bet big on sports. “I didn’t see the losses. I could only see the wins.” In the depth of his addiction, he was wagering well into six figures every seven days. The money came from a successful career in real estate and then the wholesale beverage industry.

He was wagering “close to $200,000 a week,” he recalls. “I lost an awful lot of money. My wife finally said ‘enough’s enough,’ and I went and got treatment.” His wife stayed by him and they’ve been married 52 years.

Cabaniss began his recovery and then founded his own recovery center, Williamsville Wellness just north of Richmond. He converted his family’s historic home into a 26-bed residential treatment facility.

“We have 15 hours of individual therapy a week at our residential program. Our online program has 12 hours during the course of the program. These are extremely high numbers, more than any treatment center in the country,” Cabaniss said.

The Williamsville program typically runs 21 days, unless there’s another addiction involved. For Cabaniss himself, it was alcohol. He’s been sober since 2002, and hasn’t placed a bet since 2004.
“You always stop your secondary addiction first and you keep your primary one, and mine was gambling.”

He says the need for treatment for sports gambling addiction is growing. He says it has three basic levels: A problem gambler loses a paycheck once a year; a compulsive gambler loses 2 to 5 paychecks a year; and a gambling addict like Cabaniss loses five or more paychecks a year.

“In the old days you could only bet on the team and the over/under,” he said. But now sports betting, both legal and illegal, offer myriad options with proposition or “prop” bets, such as who will be the first batter to strike out, who will catch the first pass, etc. All those possibilities mean more people wagering more money and a faster progression “from problem to compulsive to addict,” Cabaniss said.

He says what was intended to be a safeguard in the Virginia sports betting legislation — – the ban on wagering on Virginia-based teams — is creating even more business for bookies. Cabaniss says bettors in Virginia will still want to get some action on UVA, Virginia Tech, ODU and other local teams.

Sports betting will be available on-site at casinos coming to both Norfolk and Portsmouth.
Cabaniss says that raises the odds that someone will get hooked.

“(Problem gamblers will say) I lost $20,000 this week betting sports, and I’m gonna go to the casino and see if I can win it back at the casino,” he said. “The more options they have, the more trouble they can get into, then the more they chase.” 

Cabaniss says he has seen an increased demand for his treatment program since Virginia approved sports gambling, but Williamsville accepts gamblers from across the country. He says because it often leads to depression, gambling leads to suicide more than any other type of addiction.

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