July 01, 2014
After spending years compulsively betting on horse races, Portland Meadows racetrack announcer Jason Beem M.A. ’15 is becoming a counselor and chronicler of gambling addiction. In March, Beem published a new novel based on his experiences as a chronic racing gambler. Southbound is Beem’s first novel, and he wrote it in part while pursuing a master’s degree in addiction counseling at Lewis & Clark.
Beem placed his first bet at a track near Seattle at just five years old. Every Sunday, his mother would give him $20 to bet on the races. She managed, and still owns, two Seattle-area cardrooms, Diamond Lil’s Poker Room and Freddie’s Club Casino, where Beem’s father used to gamble. In college, Beem worked at both businesses, and his mother used her profits to put him through school.
Beem’s addiction started with poker. While attending the University of Washington, he skipped classes to play, thinking he might turn pro. After realizing he was hooked, he returned to horse racing. Placing bets at the track, he told The Oregonian, “became a full-time occupation.” He squandered thousands of dollars in Teamster pension money from his father, and sold his Tag Huer watch, a gift from his mom.
Beem attended Gamblers Anonymous meetings, but most other participants bet on slot machines or the lottery, so he had trouble adjusting. Around the same time, he applied for jobs as a race announcer. He practiced from the rooftop of Portland Meadows, and filled in a few times for the track’s regulars. In 2008, he got the announcing job there and moved to Portland. He calls races at breakneck speed, at times reaching four words per second.
Beem made his last bet on December 5, 2010, but two years later he was still wondering what would happen if he relapsed. In the summer of 2012, he started Southbound, inspired by one of his journal entries. “It was the off season from work and I really had no commitments for six months,” he told author Michelle Bellon. He fantasized about running away to Vegas or Los Angeles to gamble for a living. Southbound’s protagonist, Ryan McGuire, does just that. Though Beem says the book is “more fiction than reality,” it’s steeped in his story.
“I was thinking a lot about gambling again at the time, and instead of actually going out and doing it,” he said to Bellon. “I played it out through Ryan and the book.”
Beem applied to Lewis & Clark after completing the 12-step program at Gamblers Anonymous, where he learned to take calls on the addiction hotline. “I found the process of talking with people and helping them so immensely rewarding,” he said. “I also think it helped strengthen me in my own recovery and kept me in touch with those who were still struggling out there.”
He hopes to become a problem gambling counselor, reaching out to people trying to quit. “I’d love to be an advocate for those who need help finding peace from an activity that can be devastating,” he said.
Read more about Jason on his website.