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Schlichter speaks at Centerville church about gambling, life

Famous OSU, NFL quarterback told stories of his time in prison and his redemption.

By Tom Beyerlein

Staff Writer

Monday, April 16, 2007

>> Photos: Art Schlichter at Centerville United Methodist Church


CENTERVILLE — They say an addict has to hit rock bottom before he can turn himself around. For Art Schlichter, that moment came in 2004, when he was caught gambling in prison and guards threw him in the hole: A tiny, solitary cell with a 20-watt lightbulb, a bed with no pillow and a steel toilet. For 120 days.

"I had a lot of time to think," the former Ohio State University and NFL quarterback told an audience at Centerville United Methodist Church on Sunday. He remembered some words a counselor once told him: "When you hit the bottom, you need to hit your knees." So Schlichter prayed, and God "gave me something I didn't deserve — his grace and a lot of mercy."

From then on, he said, "I didn't always do right, but I always tried to do right."

Schlichter, 46, told the story of his rise from Washington Court House farmboy to star athlete to gambling addict who became "a liar, a cheater and a thief" to support his habit before a crowd of 175 at the church, 63 E. Franklin St. A free-will offering benefitted his new nonprofit organization, Gambling Prevention Awareness of Worthington, which seeks to educate youth about the perils of gambling.

Schlichter was a gifted football and basketball player at Miami Trace High School, then gained fame as OSU's quarterback in the late 1970s and early '80s before being drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1982. "I prided myself on that (athletic skill), but it was a lot of pressure, too. Deep down inside of me, I had a lot of insecurities. As a result, I looked to escape. I found something that was very harmless in my mind — gambling."

By his junior year at OSU, Schlichter was hooked on horse race wagering. By his first year in the National Football League, he said, he had bet on NFL games, though not on games in which he played. He couldn't pay his bookies anymore. He was eventually banned from the league.

In the 1990s, Schlichter went to live in Las Vegas and began running afoul of the law, as gambling debts drove him to criminality. Over the years, he lost a fortune, lost his wife and friends, and served a total of 10 years in jails and prisons for theft, forgery and money laundering. He has been free since June 2006.

"I made a lot of money. It was never enough," Schlichter told the crowd. "Borrowed all I could borrow. Stole all I could steal. I hurt a lot of people. Some of them are in this room. What really hurt me was, I had to face my kids."

One turning point came in 2002 when Schlichter's father committed suicide while Art was in prison. He said his father was also a compulsive gambler, who lost big on the stock market. Art spoke with his father by phone on the last day of his life. "He said, 'Arthur, I love you' and he hung up on me. Those are the last words I heard my father say."

Schlichter plans to continue visiting schools and churches to tell his story and spread the message that gambling can be addictive. He also hopes to direct people with addictions to treatment. He said he is helping to develop a gambling treatment center in Virginia.

>> Photos: Art Schlichter at Centerville United Methodist Church

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