In the July 18 issue of The Star, Robert McGuigan shared his family history and personal history with gambling. This week McGuigan talks about how his only son, Jason, was caught up in the world of sports gambling, and the deadly outcome it produced.

Although he grew up playing poker, Robert did not teach Jason how to play. Instead, the two of them would go fishing and camping – just like Robert and his dad did – and play dice games, such as Monopoly, Yahtzee and Ship, Captain and Crew, for money.

When Jason turned 13, Robert – who had been divorced from his wife for years – was awarded custody of Jason. The fishing and camping trips – and the dice games – increased.

Then two things happened, and while neither was earth-shattering, they were the stepping stones for what would prove to be a fatal gambling addiction: Robert bought Jason a computer and Jason began betting with Robert’s brother, who was a bookie in Madison.

Robert said he did not like Jason betting with his brother and even asked his brother numerous times not to bet with his son.

His brother ignored his requests and said the bets were just for fun, and if Jason lost he did not have to pay. After about a half dozen conversations, Robert stopped trying.

“Dad gave up, I ain’t going to fight a losing battle,” Robert said. “As it turned out, that was a win-win situation for the boy, but it sure as hell turned out to be a losing situation for me.”

Then calls started coming in from Jason’s school: Jason was falling asleep in class. Robert was baffled, the computer was off and Jason was in bed by 10:30 at night. Years passed and Robert still could not figure out why his son was so tired in school. An answer finally came – at his son’s funeral.

“When Dad went to bed, Jason was getting on the computer and getting the latest scores of the games on the west coast,” Robert explained. “…So I am thinking Jason is asleep. Now Dad goes to bed and he gets back up and is on the computer. He is involved [with gambling] at that point.”

After Jason graduated high school, his gambling only increased. According to Robert, he was betting on sports games, betting with bookies and going to the casino. As it turned out, Jason would meet Meng-Ju Wu – the man who would allegedly murder Jason and two others – at the Blackjack table.

Jason eventually got cut off from betting with bookies: while Robert’s brother would not make Jason pay when he lost, the other bookies were less forgiving.

“Gambling is a cocaine high, it is that rush, that adrenaline, that you are feeling when you are placing that bet, whether it is on a horse, whether it is on a football game, or whether it is on a hand,” Robert said.

Once he was cut off from the bookies, Jason turned to internet gambling to get that adrenaline fix, Robert said. Long gone were the days Jason was betting nickels and dimes. Robert began receiving calls from Jason’s friends, who said he was gambling big time. Then a call came in from Robert’s aunt, who informed him that she had just given Jason $10,000.

Robert headed down to Ho-Chunk to confront his son about the money, but the person he found was unrecognizable from the son he raised. When Robert told his son he wanted the $10,000 back, he was told it was “none of your damn business.”

“I am not used to my son, even as a kid, saying that to me and going against dad,” Robert said. “We had a very, very solid relationship, we never had friction. This was totally different. I asked him a couple more [times] and he said ‘it is none of your business.’”

The next day Robert made one more attempt to get the money back, and the result is something Robert has until now, kept to himself.

Robert drove to his son’s house in Verona, parked on the street and began walking up the driveway.

“My son, who was backing out of his driveway, saw me walking up the driveway and put his foot on the gas pedal and put it all the way to the floor. Had I not jumped as fast as I did out of the way, I would not be giving you this interview today,” Robert said.

“This was not the son that I knew, this was not the son that I saw the day before up at Ho-Chunk. This was not the son that was a caring and loving and nurturing individual,” he continued. “I was seeing a completely, totally different individual, somebody whose life was being controlled by the gambling. His life had completely changed, he had changed.”

That was the beginning of the end of their relationship. Robert and his aunt attended a counseling session, and his aunt promised not to give Jason any more money. She would go on to break that promise and give Jason approximately $250,000 over the years.

Robert cut all ties with his son. He stayed firm, even when Jason’s friends would call and say Jason wanted to talk with him. Until Jason was ready to stop gambling, Robert would not hear from him.

But Jason would not stop gambling, not until June 26, 2003 – the day Meng-Ju Wu allegedly murdered Jason and two others staying at his house – Dustin Wilson, 17, and Dan Swanson, 25.

Jason and Wu met six weeks prior at the Blackjack table, and Jason introduced Wu to sports gambling. In six weeks, Wu burned through more than $72,000, and his parents, who were living in Taiwan, planned to come to the states and take Wu home.

Wu told Jason to make one last bet on a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cleveland Indians. Wu’s team won, but Jason had not made the bet. Had the bet gone through, Jason and Wu would have each won $17,000.

On June 26, 2003, Jason, Swanson and Wilson were all found dead in Jason’s Verona home. The Dane County Sheriff’s Office, in the course of the investigation, would trace the murder weapon to a 9mm Glock that Jason had purchased a few weeks prior. The investigation also unearthed the extent of Jason’s gambling addiction and the connection to Wu, who would be arrested for the triple homicide.

Wu was never convicted of the three murders. One day before his trial was set to begin, Wu hung himself in jail.

The triple homicide would go on to claim one more life. On Nov. 19, 2005, devastated over his brother’s death, David Wilson hung himself in his closet, according to a March 28, 2007 article in USA Today.

A related article on the gambling education efforts Robert has undertaken since his son’s death appears here.

The Star will continue its series on gambling and gambling addiction next week with an article on the current efforts being made by states to legalize Internet gambling.

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