From 9/11 To Prison: Trolaro’s Problem Gambling Story Educates UDM Athletes

Written By Dave Briggs on March 27, 2024
Dan Trolaro, Vice President of Prevention in the US for EPIC Global Solutions. EPIC's Dan Trolaro went to jail for a gambling problem that started the day after 9/11. Recently, he shared his story at U of Detroit Mercy.

It wasn’t until he heard his mother cry as he was led away from the courtroom in handcuffs that Dan Trolaro finally realized he had to stop gambling.

It had taken almost 10 years to the day to get to this point — a downward spiral that began the day after two planes hit the World Trade Center across the street from where Trolaro worked at that time at Goldman Sachs.

Recently, while speaking to student-athletes at the University of Detroit Mercy, Trolaro shared his story in the hope it will have enough of an impact to prevent them from developing a gambling problem.

It’s a harrowing tale Trolaro (above) also shared with PlayMichigan.

Gambling to cope with the horrors of 9/11 led to jail

Trolaro turned to gambling to distract himself from the tragedy of 9/11 that claimed 14 of his friends on Sept. 11 and two more later via suicide.

Nearly a decade later, he misappropriated more than $2 million to fuel his gambling dependency while working as a financial planner with Prudential in New Jersey.

Even in the 18 months while he waited to be sentenced, Trolaro admits he wasn’t fully in recovery despite regular attendance at Gamblers Anonymous meetings.

“In the back of my mind it was, ‘I just don’t want to gamble because I don’t want to get any more prison time. I don’t want to get layered on with anything else,'” Trolaro told PlayMichigan.

“Plus, I didn’t have any money. I was trying to do the right thing. I was embarrassed, but it wasn’t true recovery. So, I would sit in a meeting but I wasn’t really participating… There was a part of me who thought, ‘Someday, I’ll go back to gambling,’ even though I just been caught and I was facing prison time.

“The day I was sentenced and those handcuffs went on, that was the day I knew I was done.”

That date — Aug. 19, 2011 — is forever cemented in his mind.

UDM Assistant AD: Trolaro’s story connected with student-athletes

Dan Trolaro of EPIC Global Solutions speaks to student-athletes at University of Detroit Mercy
Dan Trolaro (left, with UDM Assistant Athletic Director Steve Corder) recently spoke to University of Detroit Mercy student-athletes. (courtesy EPIC Global Solutions)

Steve Corder, the Assistant Athletic Director at University of Detroit Mercy, has seen the power of Trolaro’s story on student-athletes a few times now.

Trolaro is now the Vice President of Prevention in the US for EPIC Global Solutions. The UK-based “gambling harm minimization” company has been contracted by the NCAA to provide problem gambling education to schools across the nation. EPIC has reached over 200 universities and more than 50,000 student-athletes. Trolaro spoke to UDM student-athletes over two days last fall and returned to the school a few weeks ago to address student-athletes new to campus.

“When you have real life stories and not just data-driven presentations or metrics-based presentations, you generally have more of an impact in terms of student-athletes’ jaws dropping or student-athletes thinking, ‘This person looks exactly like me. This person had a similar trajectory to me,'” Corder said of Trolaro’s presentation.

“When they find out the end of that chapter of life — which, obviously, Dan’s was in a penitentiary — all of a sudden it’s a wake up call, like, ‘Maybe this stuff isn’t quite as harmless as all these commercials and all these pop ups are making it out to be. Maybe I don’t need to be utilizing this app.’

“The impact they have on student-athletes by telling their story is allowing the student-athletes to see it’s not just somebody else’s problem, but, rather, anybody that finds themselves on this slope can hit the bottom of it pretty quickly.”

Corder is such a fan of the EPIC responsible gambling presentations he said he is hoping to expand future EPIC presentations beyond student-athletes and perhaps add those in the Greek life at UDM to start.

More than just NCAA compliance

EPIC’s responsible gambling presentation goes beyond NCAA compliance and “checking a box to protect ourselves,” Corder said. He said he believes their presentations have a greater chance of impacting behavior.

“You really want it to be a meaningful presentation where student-athletes leave and say, ‘Wow, something changed tonight,'” Corder said.

Trolaro said, “It’s not just about the rules, what you can do and what you can’t do. What we try to help these these young men and women understand — and the coaches — is that this is more about exploring your relationship with gambling life after college.

“It’s certainly, ‘Don’t risk your eligibility. Don’t risk your scholarship. Don’t risk that while you’re a student-athlete.’ We do touch on the rules, the compliance stuff, but at a deeper level to say, ‘Here’s why it matters.’

“We examine your relationship with gambling the same way you would with alcohol use, with cannabis, with anything in life. It’s just we need to put gambling in the conversation as it expands around Michigan and the country.”

Trolaro: Athletes more at risk of developing a gambling problem

(from left) Jessica Kumke, Associate Commissioner for Governance, Compliance and Legal Strategies with the Horizon League, Dan Trolaro and Steve Corde at UDM in 2024 (courtesy EPIC Global Solutions)
(from left) Jessica Kumke, Associate Commissioner for Governance, Compliance and Legal Strategies with the Horizon League, Dan Trolaro and Steve Corde at UDM in 2024 (courtesy EPIC Global Solutions)

Trolaro said athletes are at higher risk to develop a gambling problem.

“There’s a few personality traits,” Trolaro said. “Athletes are driven. They’re competitive as all hell. They are risk takers. They have a fear of failure. And they want to see things through to completion.

“One of the most vulnerable areas an athlete can find him or herself in is when they’re injured. Injury to an athlete starts planting those seeds of doubt. You’re losing your spot on the team. You’re now isolated… We encourage coaches and staff to stay really close to injured athletes as well, for mental health and well-being purposes.

“It doesn’t mean that every injured athlete will start gambling, but we’re talking about a larger picture of impact on mental health. And gambling is one of those ways that an athlete can either look to find a rush to replicate dopamine, or to look to escape a problem they just don’t know how to deal with.”

Being competitive, driven and a risk taker helped lead to Trolaro’s gambling problem

Trolaro said he’s been there as an injured athlete. He was a successful baseball player scouted by three Division 1 schools and two pro teams.

“I was a high-performing high school athlete until I didn’t want to listen to some advice from a scout and I ended up having an arm injury… I ended up with a partially torn rotator cuff and an elbow and wrist issue,” Trolaro said. “It wiped out my my opportunity and my potential to do great things. So I speak from the lens of lived experience of injury.”

He said after his baseball career ended, he continued to be “competitive and a risk taker and driven.” That led to the job at Goldman Sachs and being in New York City on 9/11.

“I share very openly with the student-athletes that on September 11th I lost 14 friends that day, and I lost two more to suicide a month later and that is what really spiralled me down this dark hole of mental health,” Trolaro said. “We didn’t talk about that in 2001 like we do today. And I just started gambling every day to escape.

“It’s that athlete mentality, coupled with a traumatic experience that you don’t know how to deal with and I just didn’t tell anybody about it. And I was hiding it. And we talk about the potential for harm that way. So it’s those two pieces together that they can really identify and resonate with.”

Trolaro finding redemption after 4 1/2 years in prison

In 2011, Trolaro was handed a six-year prison sentence. He served 4 1/2 years.

“I could have gambled every day in prison,” he said.  “It’s all around you. But while I was in prison, I realized I had to change my life. I ended up spending my time between medium security, minimum security at work farm and then on a supervised release program. While I was on supervised release, I got my master’s in psychology.

“I was having a hard time finding work. Quite honestly, when you have a criminal record, people aren’t fast to hire you. I worked for some mom and pops and worked for a garden center and I worked for some restaurants. And one day I was looking at the newspaper in North Jersey… and I saw this little article for a gambling counselor.”

That led to a job at 1-800-GAMBLER in New Jersey. Trolaro advanced to become assistant director before joining EPIC in 2021.

“I felt like I want to do more [with EPIC] on a national presence than just within the state of New Jersey,” he said. “And that’s kind of the journey I was on. The day the handcuffs were slapped on my wrist was the day I realized I need to change.”

Journey of recovery now in its 14th year

Trolaro said his “journey of recovery” is now in its 14th year. To balance the repeated sharing of traumatic experiences, he said he exercises, tries to eat well and get enough sleep. Still, he said certain sessions will weigh more heavily on him.

“I was at Lipscomb University last year, and one of the student-athletes came down after my session, and she said, ‘Can I give you a hug?’ She was like, 19 and I said ‘Why? What’s going on?’ She said, ‘My father was supposed to be on the flight that crashed into the towers, and he got stuck in traffic and he missed his flight because of traffic and he’s alive and I’m alive because of that.’ And we just cried.

“I was at another university where one of the student-athletes’ father was the pilot on one of the planes that was hijacked and forced to crash into the towers. And we cried.

“So, some of them hit differently. I was just at a university this week, where a student-athlete shared me some really personal things that had nothing to do with gambling, it had to do with mental health and loss. And we just prayed and cried.

“This is real life, and that’s why we do what we do, because we’re impacting lives, and we see it every session we do.”

Where college students in Michigan can get help for problem gambling

Studies say college students are at particular risk of developing a gambling problem.

There are a number of responsible gambling resources in Michigan.

Michigan offers a Responsible Gambling Hotline at 1-888-223-3044.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ problem gambling helpline is 1-800-270-7117.

The National Council on Problem Gambling’s toll-free helpline is 1-800-GAMBLER.

Photo by courtesy EPIC Global Solutions
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Dave Briggs

Dave Briggs is a managing editor and writer for Catena Media. His expertise is covering the gambling industry in Michigan with an emphasis on online casino, online sports betting and horse racing sectors. He is currently reporting on the gambling industries in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Canada.

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