Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dancing with the one who'll kill you

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ALL the symptoms are there. The dependence. The denial.

The compulsion to keep going back to the casinos and the VLTs to fulfill a need they know is wrong.

But they just can't stop...

* * *

Rick finally stopped.

On March 31, he blew his head off with his hunting rifle.

Rick was 46, a forklift operator at MacDon Industries for 25 years and the second Manitoban this year who is known to have taken his own life because of a gambling addiction.

His family -- who wanted his photo to appear, but not his last name -- contacted me after reading the column about another pathological gambler.

The one I called Larry who, in mid-March, addressed and mailed a suicide note to my office.

Larry survived his drug overdose attempt.

Two weeks later, Rick drove out to a rural area near Selkirk -- close to where he used to hunt with one of his brothers -- and made sure he didn't fail.

That was on March 31.

His family decided to share the note he left in hopes of helping others and putting pressure on the provincial government to do more to help problem gamblers.

Rick's note began:

"I'm sick of all my stress. The CASINO took all my passion to live. It's a bad place to get hooked.

"It's a sinful place.

"If you look at the word Casino, it has the word 'SIN' right in the middle.

"Because of this place I lost everything. My house, my girl, my dog and even my job. Because I'm getting so much pain in the back of (the) head I have to take pills. Sometimes pills make me sick. Seven Oaks Hospital said 'Here, take these.' That's what made me sick. I'm taking Tylenol sometimes 8 a day sometimes more.

"I've had enough.

"I'm sorry for my Mom and Dad. They don't live in Winnipeg.

"My brothers are Ken and Mike. They live in Winnipeg. Ken and Mike, you can have everything in my house.

"Please share it.

"Don't be too mad at me...

"Love ya forever."

It looked as if Rick intended to end it there.

But he left a blank line, then kept writing.

"I just don't know what to do anymore.

"I used to love fishing and hunting and camping.

"All I want to do now is gamble.

"I can't get enough. Every dollar I have I give to the casino or VLTs... (I'm) sick and it hurts so much. They call it a game. First time I ever (heard of) a game that sucks you in so bad you just want to die.

"See you guys later, much later.

"I hope to see those bright lights (and) not the other ones like in that movie (Ghost)."

Rick signed his full name, left a phone number and then wrote his own epitaph.

"I was the best forklift Driver in the world. (ask) the people at MacDon Ind..."

The Addictions Foundation of Manitoba estimates there are almost 10,000 Manitobans who are pathological gamblers like Rick. They believe there are another 20,000 who "exhibit behaviour that can be problematic."

That means they slap the machine as if it will listen to reason, or their frustration turns them violent or verbally abusive.

I'm not so sure that "problematic" includes the VLT zombies who sit for hour upon hour, day after day, week after week. As long as they're in their trance, and pouring their money mindlessly into the government's coffers, no one will bother them.

The casino staff, trained by the AFM to intervene if they spot problem gamblers, aren't taught to look for the quiet ones.

The zombies.

After all, they have a right to their private hell.

And their marathon dance with Lady Luck.

Right up to and including the last waltz.

There was a P.S. to Rick's suicide note.

It referred to the $3,400 he had withdrawn from ATMs the day he died, and after he'd already said his goodbyes without his family realizing what he was doing.

"I put some cheques in the bank tonight," he wrote. "I took out some money that doesn't belong to me and lost it at the Casino. I am all ... up. The bank is going to shoot me anyway. It's a dirty job. I'll do it for them."

Yesterday, his brother Mike talked about how Rick had been his best friend and how his older brother had always looked out for him when they were kids.

"He had such a huge heart," Mike said. "But there wasn't room for him."

Mike's wife, Elayna, blames the government.

"I know it's not their problem that people have addictions," she said. "But they just make it way too easy."

She also said this:

"We feel something more has to be done with the government's responsibility for gambling addiction."

* * *

As I was saying, all the symptoms are there.

The dependence.

The denial.

The compulsion to keep going back to the casinos and the VLTs to fulfill a need they know is wrong.

But they just can't stop...

I'm talking about the government, of course.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 7, 2005 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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