'Nothing but chaos': Recovered addict warns against 24-hour casinos in Winnipeg
'When you don't have hope, the last thing you think you can get is help'
A recovered gambling addict says 24-hour casinos in Winnipeg will mean trouble for problem gamblers.
"When we go ahead and provide people who have out-of-control gambling issues an opportunity to gamble longer, it just means that their lives are going to be out of control," said Chris Parlow, whose own life spiraled downwards shortly after Manitoba's first year-round casino opened 25 years ago in the Hotel Fort Garry.
"It did destroy my life. For 20 years I lived in secret, covert-like, doing everything I could to avoid detection and letting people know I had a serious illness. I did a lot of lying."
What often happens at the end of all of this chaos is we decide to take our life because we just can't take it anymore- Chris Parlow
While he admits to playing many casino games, Parlow was particularly addicted to VLTs.
"When I sat down [at a VLT] I couldn't get up again," he said.
Parlow lost his house after he stopped paying bills and, eventually, the mortgage.
"It was just chaos, nothing but chaos," he said, adding he started hiding from everyone. "That's what a lot of us do and unfortunately, what often happens at the end of all of this chaos is we decide to take our life because we just can't take it anymore.
"It's very difficult when you are in debt to the point where you have nowhere to turn except to become homeless," he added.
"Or you are just so filled with despair that you don't see hope anymore. And when you don't have hope, the last thing you think you can get is help."
The Manitoba government is launching a four-month pilot project on Dec. 2, which will see the provincially run Casinos of Winnipeg — Club Regent and McPhillips Station — open 24 hours on weekends.
Doors will open at 10 a.m. Friday and remain open until 3 a.m. Monday. When the Monday is a statutory holiday, the casinos will stay open until 3 a.m. Tuesday.
Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, the Crown corporation that oversees gaming in the province, has said casino staff will watch for people who might be getting into trouble gambling.
MLL spokeswoman Susan Olynik has also said that people with gambling issues may request to be voluntarily excluded from the casino. The Crown corporation will also assist if someone needs to be referred to an agency for help with their addiction, she said.
Parlow doubts any of that will help.
You are just so filled with despair that you don't see hope anymore. And when you don't have hope, the last thing you think you can get is help- Chris Parlow
Not only was he never approached by any staff when he was spending hours in the casinos, Parlow said gambling addicts "have absolutely no desire to talk to anybody about help."
They all believe everything in their lives will be put back together again with that big win, he said.
"And if we identify ourselves as being unable to control our gambling, we would feel that the casino might jeopardize our opportunity for that win."
Eventually, Parlow was identified as suicidal and was admitted to a hospital psychiatric ward. He credits "a very special lady in my life" for standing by and supporting him while he got better.
"I never thought, I never imagined, that anybody would be there for me when I actually told them the truth about who I was," he said.
"She saved my life."
Parlow, who is now in his seventh year of recovery, said there are only a few things that are guaranteed to come from 24-hour gambling in Manitoba: more crime, more homelessness and more desperate people.