Recovered gambler almost lost it all

Chris Parlow, a New Westminster resident, lost his house, car and five-year-old golden retriever Shasta because of his gambling addiction. He hasn
Chris Parlow, a New Westminster resident, lost his house, car and five-year-old golden retriever Shasta because of his gambling addiction. He hasn't gambled in more than three years, and recently his girlfriend gave him a four-month old golden retreiver puppy which he also named Shasta.
— image credit: Grant Granger/NewsLeader

Chris Parlow first tasted the forbidden fruit of gambling on the school playground when he was eight years old batting a tetherball around a pole with a Mr. Freeze ice pop on the line.

Forty years later, the good natured fun he’d experienced as a kid had deteriorated into him trying to kill himself on a lonely, rural road in Ontario after losing his last $18 betting on a relatively insignificant baseball game.

Now the New Westminster resident is telling his story during Addictions Awareness Week in Canada (Nov. 19-25) to let people know how dangerous gambling can be.

At first Parlow would buy raffle tickets, 50-50 draws and a little blackjack with friends. Nothing too serious. He got hooked when the Crystal Casino on the seventh floor of Winnipeg’s historic Hotel Fort Garry opened in 1990. The blackjack tables and slot machines were love at first sight. Parlow would sit at a table, and even after he’d spent all his money he couldn’t get up.

The day Manitoba introduced sports betting was one of celebration for the Montreal Canadiens fan, who worked as a union president and business agent for workers at a sawmill in The Pas.

It only took a few weeks of spending hundreds of dollars a day on Sports Select and he was having trouble paying his bills. He believed in the ol’ ‘go big or go home’ philosophy. Three years later, he’d lost his home, his car and his dog, a five-year-old female golden retriever he called Shasta.

“A lot of me died that day,” says Parlow of authorities taking his dog away.

His addiction spiraled, taking him to new depths. He stealthily went about continuing his gambling while neglecting his home and health.

Wouldn't ask for help

His rental accommodations were filthy. The bathtub was so backed up he had to bail the contents out and put it down the toilet. He developed ear infections that he neglected to tend to, and now pays the price with the loss of hearing in his left ear and only partial hearing in his right.

Every paycheque went toward gambling. Parlow would lie like crazy so he could procrastinate on paying his rent or other bills. He couldn’t ask for help because that would mean revealing who he had become.

In September 2009, he told everyone he was going fishing. But instead of angling for pickerel he headed to Winnipeg where he checked into the hotel next to the Club Regent casino to angle for hitting the jackpot.

After a few days he was so discouraged he decided to kill himself, but he wanted to return to his boyhood home in Saint John, N.B., to do it. So he hit the road, although that didn’t stop him from gambling. He bet his last $18 on the New York Yankees in a Sept. 18 baseball game against the Seattle Mariners.

Parlow parked his car on a remote road north of Kingston while he listened to the late-night game from the West Coast on a New York radio station.

It looked like he was going to win his bet. The Yankees were leading 2-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning. New York’s Mariano Rivera, one of the best at closing out games that baseball has ever seen, was on the mound to seal the deal. However, with one out and a runner at second base, Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki came to the plate. The logical thing to do, Parlow thought, was to intentionally walk Suzuki and try to get a double play. But New York didn’t do that and Suzuki hit a home run to win the game.

“It was fitting,” says Parlow. “It was like the bottom of the ninth of the game and the bottom of the ninth in my life. It was just indicative of my life. I was just tired of the pain and agony of my life. It was a life of chaos and deceit.”

Light in the darkness

He was so depressed he stuffed socks into his exhaust pipes, rolled up the windows and let the car run. That didn’t work because the exhaust shot the socks out.

“I was exasperated, mad. ‘I can’t even do this right,’ I was thinking,” he says.

He tried again, this time soaking the socks in water and utilizing a jack and an abandoned two-by-four to brace against the pipes to keep the socks in.

It still didn’t work.

“I was awake for hours in the car, hoping, wanting so bad to breathe my last air and die. It didn’t happen, so now what do I do?” says Parlow.

He attempted other ways while he sat in the car, until suddenly he saw headlights coming down the road. It was a cop who was investigating a report from a resident of a vehicle in the bush.

The officer was kind, considerate and respectful. He offered Parlow help and then a little while later told him a Canada-wide missing persons alert had been issued for him.

“When I was sitting in the middle of nowhere waiting to die I never thought I’d be given an opportunity after years of pathological gambling to be able to shed the chaos and destruction of the toll it takes on a human being,” says Parlow.

After a little while in Ontario, he returned to Manitoba for treatment at a facility in Brandon near where his parents now lived.

The counselling and help he received has saved his life.

‘She is my lighthouse’

In 2008, he started a relationship with a woman he met in The Pas, but who was living in Winnipeg at the time. She had no clue of Parlow’s pathological addiction, although he went to great pains to make sure she never came over to his place. She stuck by him, and now that she’s moved back to British Columbia where she is from, he has followed her here.

“She is my lighthouse,” says Parlow, who is on a disability pension while dealing with his hearing problems. “My hope of love for all my tomorrows. She inspires me. She is a woman who although finding out about me and my pathological gambling truly knew it was an illness.”

She even gave him a female golden retriever puppy, which he named Shasta and loves taking walking in Queen’s Park.

“It was like a rebirth,” says Parlow of the four-month old bundle of energy. “It was like I had an opportunity to set things straight. It was a way to be here for her in a way that I wasn’t able to with my other dog.”

Although he attends Gamblers Anonymous meetings on a regular basis, Parlow has to deal with his addiction on daily. He has trouble walking into a store, gas station, mall or bar that has a lottery kiosk. He’s even stopped going to one grocery outlet because the self-serve checkouts have a lottery prompt on the keypad. He won’t even go into Tim Hortons during its Roll up the Rim to Win promotion for fear the gambling bug will bite.

And he doesn’t play tetherball anymore.

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