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CLEVELAND — Downtown’s hottest new addition is drawing people from all over the Buckeye State.

But despite all the buzz behind the Horseshoe Casino, Justin Gale never wants to step inside it.

Gale said it’s not a political matter, but merely because he’s a compulsive gambler–a problem he’s struggled with most of his life.

“I started gambling compulsively when I was 15 years old,” said Gale, of Mayfield Heights. “I placed my last bet when I was 50 years old, so I gambled for 35 years straight as a compulsive gambler. I quit 508 days ago.”

Now, Gale, 52, is the first person in Ohio to join the Voluntary Exclusion Program, banning himself from all gaming centers in the state.

“If I would win money, and I would be stopped on my way out and be identified, I would be stopped for trespassing and I would have to forfeit all my winnings,” he said.

People may apply to be a part of the Casino Control Commission’s Responsible Gaming Program.

Applicants can request to be barred from casinos for one year or five years at a time or–as Gale did–for a lifetime.

“The reason I signed up for it is because I need every barrier in place to help me help myself, so to speak, so I don’t gamble,” Gale said. “All I know is (the money) wouldn’t be in my pocket any longer. Knowing that I would be arrested is motivation enough for me to not walk into that door.”

Gaming has been a significant part of Gale’s life, and he admits, it’s come at a price–even bigger than the money he’s lost.

“Gambling always came first,” he said. “So, I wouldn’t attend many family events, many social events. I ruined many family relationships. I’m divorced. I really couldn’t be there for someone else as a friend.”

“And I have a certificate from the program that I keep next to my deceased father because the entire 35 years I gambled, he continued to beg me to stop gambling and I couldn’t do it,” Gale added. “But if he were alive, the first thing he would say is ‘Finally, now go help people as much as you can and not go and suffer for 35 years.”

However, that the program isn’t a be-all-end-all. Gale said a number of other programs help him, like support groups and sessions with Cleveland therapist Kim Goldhamer.

“It’s been over 500 days since I placed a bet, it does get easier each day, and that’s a good thing for people to know,” Gale said. “But, that being said, if I let my guard down for one second I could only be one minute from placing my next bet.”

In addition to his full-time office job, Gale’s biggest motivation is volunteering and helping others like him. He’s happy with Cleveland cashing in with the casino, but he said he doesn’t want anyone else to make life-changing mistakes.

Ideally, Gale said he’d like to see gambling addiction programs to reach out to teenagers. But he’s grateful that through support like this, he now can have a second chance.

“I’ve gotten in contact with a lot of my friends from high school, who I’ve missed dearly for the last 35 years,” he said. “I’d like them to know the Justin that’s not a compulsive gambler. I think they’d like that person better.”

“But it’s better late than never,” he added. ”So no matter what age someone is at in their life, if they realize they have a gambling problem, it’s never too late to quit. Mainly my main focus in my spare time is to help other people not spend 35 years suffering the way I did.”

Click here for more information about the Voluntary Exclusion Program. You can also contact the Ohio Problem Gambling Hotline at 1 (800) 589-9966.

You can e-mail Responsible Gaming Program Coordinator Laura Clemens via e-mail at