Dear Penny: How Do I Move Past My Husband’s $150K Gambling Losses?

A man looks upset after losing a bet at the casino slot machine.
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Dear Penny,

I have just found out that my husband of 16 years in the last six months has gotten himself into gambling trouble of $150,000. Besides being devastated and heartbroken, I am trying to figure out how do I NOT drown and swim out of this water.

We both are very successful with great-paying jobs. We have a joint savings/checking account. Then he has his own checking account where he would normally deposit 10% of his earnings for fun and his poker playing nights, which have apparently turned into blackjack nights.

Our joint account has over $100,000, and we have an investment account of $100,000, plus both of our 401(k)s.

I need to know what my best steps are. I personally (I guess jointly) have roughly $15,000 in debt at 0% due to our IVF treatment and am paying $2K a month, which I could pay off easily if needed.

How do I protect what we currently have? How do I overcome this as it will put us behind on buying a house and everything else?

I know everyone will say divorce is the answer, but I do love him. He is a good man — I know this is just a sickness and obsession that I hope and pray he can get help for. I am LOST.

— E.

Dear E.,

You asked me what you can do to overcome this. But that’s the question your husband needs to be asking. Has he volunteered to take a second job to make up for his gambling losses? Has he agreed to seek therapy for his compulsion? Has he done anything to make you really believe that he won’t put you in this situation again?

I don’t think that divorce is automatically the solution here. But I do think it needs to be on the table if your husband resumes gambling. Rarely do people make the changes necessary to stop a destructive habit until the consequences they face outweigh the pleasure.

Dear Penny

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If you and your husband both earn lots of money, he’s probably not feeling the financial pain. He can always go make more money. Your husband needs to know that you’re prepared to leave him should he ever breach your trust again. Even if he is a good man with a sickness, he needs accountability.

Right now your husband needs to understand that trust is earned and that he doesn’t deserve a modicum of it. If he wants to stay married, part of the deal needs to be that you close the joint checking account and deposit your paycheck, plus the majority of his paycheck, into an account that you control. You should make a monthly habit of paying the bills together, but ultimately, you control the account. He can keep his personal account, but he only gets to deposit enough to pay for things like gas and groceries.

When you pay bills, you should also each review your credit reports. That will alert you if your husband has opened any credit accounts or accrued new debt, which should be a big red flag that he’s gambling again.

I wish I knew more about how he managed to rack up $150,000 worth of gambling losses without your knowledge. Did he take the money from joint funds? Or did he go into debt gambling? Whatever the case, his “fun” money needs to go toward undoing the damage, whether that means building back your savings or paying off debt.

Since you both make good money, consider working with a marital counselor on rebuilding trust. Your husband should also pursue therapy on his own to work on his gambling issues.

You’re going to need to set hard boundaries here. You need to tell your husband that you’ll walk away from this marriage if he engages in gambling in any form, even if it’s buying a scratch-off lotto ticket or playing penny poker. Likewise, it’s a deal-breaker if he keeps any financial secrets from you, like having a bank account you’re unaware of or withdrawing a large amount without talking it over with you.

This is going to be tough not just on him, but on you. I would hate having to monitor my partner’s behavior to this extent. But if he’s lost $150,000 and you only recently became aware of it, the trust issues have been building for a long time. He has a long way to go before he re-earns your trust.

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Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].