Poker player goes all-in for the gospel

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Richard Andrew studies the scriptures while being reminded of tokens of his past. Andrew used to be a high-stakes gambler in Las Vegas, but used his winnings to put himself through school back in Utah. (Bret Mortimer)
Richard Andrew studies the scriptures while being reminded of tokens of his past. Andrew used to be a high-stakes gambler in Las Vegas, but used his winnings to put himself through school back in Utah. (Bret Mortimer)

Richard Andrew moved from his home in Provo to Las Vegas for a summer to sell pest control but ended up buying into a lucrative poker career instead.

Andrew eventually quit playing poker and moved back to Provo for school. He used his poker winnings to pay for tuition at Utah Valley University and other necessities.

After high school, Andrew had no intention of going to college. He just wanted to play games, so he decided he would work purely to support that desire. He would shuffle through job after job to make ends meet. He accepted an offer to sell pest control in Las Vegas in the summer of 2007.

He soon discovered he wasn’t keen on the sales job. He decided to turn to something he was good at: games. Andrew enjoyed watching poker on ESPN and thought he would try his hand at a casino after work one night.

“I think I ended up breaking even that first night, but it really gave me a passion for the game,” Andrew said. “It’s not hard to figure out that air-conditioned casinos and playing poker would capture my interest much more than knocking doors in 115-degree weather for 12 hours a day.”

Andrew had to keep up his image with the pest control company, so he would knock doors until he got one sale and then head to the casinos for the rest of the day.

He read up on poker books and studied the strategies of the game as much as he could. His friend, Ryan Schmidt, played poker online for a living. Schmidt gave Andrew pointers throughout the summer, but Andrew felt he was not playing well enough to make a living. He decided it was time to move back to Utah and resume his normal life.

A few days after Andrew returned to Utah, Schmidt called to say he was moving to Las Vegas to play poker and was looking to room with Andrew.

“I really felt that with the aid of my friend, I would be able to turn the corner and become successful at poker. So I packed up my things and left with very little money on me,” Andrew said.

With the help of his friend and a few weeks of experience, Andrew started winning more and more. He was winning money at a lucrative rate and moved up in the stakes quickly. Within his second month of playing poker full-time, he made $30,000.

With money in the bank and a newfound confidence, Andrew began living the lifestyle of a successful poker player. He and his poker pals would party all day and play poker most nights.

If they weren’t in the mood to play, they’d party all night instead. They met up with fellow poker players and rented out a three-story bachelor pad with a pool and held parties there.

Up to this point, Andrew had never really experienced losing — and he didn’t foresee it happening any time soon. So losing streaks caught him by surprise.

“I felt like I had made it. That’s the thing, though; when you build up pride like this, you can be humbled pretty fast,” Andrew said. “When you start stringing together losing streaks, you lose the desire to play altogether. There would be weeks off at a time that I wouldn’t play. I would just sit at home and eat into my bankroll. The lows of poker are so much worse than the highs are good. It’s really an awful experience.”

Meanwhile, his family grew worried about him. Holly Andrew, Richard Andrew’s sister, was especially concerned. “I wasn’t happy about him living in Vegas. My sister lived there for a long time, and I saw what Vegas could do to people,” she said.

After three years of playing poker for a living, Richard Andrew reached his turning point. He said he realized poker was not a realistic way to support a family, which he desired to have. He said because poker can be mentally trying, it’s not the right environment to raise children or hold meaningful relationships.

After being home for a while, he realized things were different in Provo, and he knew why. “I felt a certain glow around the people here. I knew that the difference was the Church, and I wanted to come back, but I really just couldn’t do it on my own,” he said.

Richard Andrew, as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, felt scared to return because the LDS Church is opposed to gambling; he thought he would be judged if he returned. Luckily, he found that was not the case. After a few years of encouragement from friends and family, he went back to church.

Richard Andrew stands with his parents outside the Mt. Timpanogos temple. Andrew explored a gambling lifestyle, but turned his life around and now lives in Utah.
Richard Andrew stands with his parents outside the Mt. Timpanogos temple. Andrew explored a gambling lifestyle, but turned his life around and now lives in Utah.

“I know the Lord was there watching over me, because I really felt like I belonged,” Richard Andrew said. “Another thing happened that I did not expect — I felt the Spirit. It was so strong that I could not deny it, and I loved it. It was something I wanted more of.”

He believes his true conversion came through a message in general conference of October 2012.

“Those talks really just broke me down. Every inch of my pride was stripped down, and I realized how true the words were that were being spoken. I was bawling, in tears, pacing around the house, because I just could not sit still. I remember thinking that every single thing they were saying was meant specifically for me. I found myself agreeing with everything they said, and I just kept asking myself, ‘I know what they’re saying is true; why was I not doing those things?'” he said.

He scheduled an appointment with the bishop of his ward and told him his story. Within about a month, Richard Andrew was ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood. He was touched by the experience and was thankful for his family’s support.

Sylvia Andrew, Richard Andrew’s mother, loves and supports her son. “I’m proud of Richard because he has made a lot of strides in education and spirituality. He’s come a long way,” she said.

The month after he received the Melchizedek Priesthood, Richard Andrew was called into his stake president’s office, where he was asked to serve as elder’s quorum president for his ward. He was astounded and felt inadequate for the job, but knew he was called for a reason. He served faithfully for 18 months before he was released.

Dallon Henkel, a member in the quorum, felt love from Richard Andrew’s service. “Richard’s service was special because he took the support he had from his leaders, meshed it with his sincerity in trying to be honest, and spoke to everyone in a meaningful way,” Henkel said. “There were times where he didn’t know exactly what to do, but he was there no matter what. There was nothing that was going to stop him from doing something if it was his duty to be there.”

Richard Andrew said he serves and lives the gospel to help others that may feel like he did. “The experience changed the way I see the world and the way I look at other people. I cared about them, more than myself. I wanted to make sure they felt welcomed as I had felt welcomed that day when I went to church when I felt like a small gust of wind would have knocked me over,” he said.

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