John Armore's gambling losses began with small bets on slow horses at tracks around New Jersey, where he worked as a prosecuting attorney. His taste for casual betting increased when he moved to Phoenix as an insurance company executive; Las Vegas was only a four-hour drive away, and Armore began to crave the fast-paced action craps and blackjack tables offered. Another move to Sacremento - just 100 miles from the casinos of Reno - increased his appetite. Armore began lying to his family and business associates, saying he was away on business when in fact he was haunced for two days over the gaming tables of Reno, Vegas or Tahoe.

Before Armore hit bottom, he lost his life savings and bilked his employer out of at least $500,000. In the late 1960s, the lawyer with an Italian-Catholic upbringing, father of three children, executive with a $50,000 annual salary, was a closet gambling addict.

"It's the vehicle you use to escape reality that's most palatable to you," says Armore, 50, who now works in Washington for the National Alliance of Business, heading its ex-offenders program. He spent nearly four years behing bars for his swindle that began because he found in casinos a hiding place from marriage problems, concerns about his job, doubts about his self-worth. Naturally, he watched the hoopla that attended the legalization of gambling in Atlantic City with hard eyes.

"A great number of human beings that have the propensities I do will be sucked into the process - it'll disrupt a lot of households," says Armore. "People with low self-concepts, seeking a form of escape from a situation they can't tolerate . . . It just took me in and kept building. A compulsive gambler can't walk away a winner. There's an inability to stop until you're flushed yourself out. The exhilaration really takes place after you're lost all the money."

Sometimes Armore won. He remembers walking out of a casino with $50,000 in his pocket. Now , he vowed to himself, I'll quit . But he asked the taxi driver to stop at Caesar's Palace for one more ride on the merry-go-round; an hour and half later he was broke.

"In January of 1966 I'd got as far as I could tapping our joint savings account. I'd borrowed all I could without involving my wife in the process. I came back from losing $5,000 and decided I'd borrow some money from my employer with the self -understanding that I'd put it back.

Armore would eventually steal 100 times that amount by writing fictitious insurance policies, then filing phony claims on those policies and pocketing the claim checks.

"A fire in a nonexistent home could run $10,000 to $15,000," Armore recalls. "I had to bring other people into the scheme - my claims manager, contractors, auto body shops, salvage dealers and friends who I merely approached with a way to make money. Eventually 25 to 40 people were involved. No one turned me down."

It was after he lost the $50,000 at Caesar's Palace that Armore realized he was over the brink, that he was incapable of stopping unless he confessed; he called the Sacremento County prosecutor and said he had a story to tell. Armore received a two-to-28 year sentence for grand theft and bad check writing. Since he was released from prison in 1972, he and his wife have been separated "off and on."

"It was very difficult to say to your wife that all the money we've saved over the year isn't there anymore, and in addition I owe all this and in additional I committed this crime," Armore says.

"She got her teaching credentials and went to work. She struck by me through my incarceration and really pulled me through."

Armore suggest Gamblers Anoymous for bettors who want to shake their habit. But he doubts the beginners crowding the Resorts International casino in Atlantic City will know when they're hooked; even with his legal and business training. Armore rationalized his predicament when he was down half a million bucks. He told himself he was just having a run of bad luck.