He bet his life... and almost lost

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

In a secluded location in Edmonton, a group of thugs delivered their life-or-death message.

Holding a gun to Randy's head and waving a picture of a loved one in his face, they gave him 48 hours to collect nearly $200,000 to pay off his debt to his bookmaker.

If the payment didn't arrive, the score would be settled in a much uglier fashion.

- - -

"If they were only threatening me, I would have taken off," said Randy.

"If I was just a loner, I would have skipped out of town.

"I would have gone to some other country and started a new life.

"Nobody would have ever caught me."

But with a loved one's life on the line, Randy - not his real name - scrambled to collect the cash.

"That is when family and friends come in and help," he explained.

He produced the money in time - and then walked straight into a Gamblers Anonymous meeting.

It was June 2005. After nearly 20 years of illegal sports wagering, he had lost everything. And he finally realized it was time to stop.

The addiction started at the tender age of 11, when he threw his first pair of dice.

"You win once and you want to win again," said Randy, who has spent his entire life in Edmonton. "You want to win the third time and the fourth time."

The obsession moved from dice in the pool hall to actual sports games just a few years later, betting on local high school and university football games.

And then he graduated to almost all types of sports.

ACTION STARTED AT NOON

Working at a bar, the action would start at noon.

"The satellite would come on a 12 o'clock with the greyhounds," he recalled.

"We would start picking and run from there."

His life became a wild roller-coaster ride.

"It was a rush," explained Randy.

"You win big money - and I am not talking about $1,000 or $500; I am talking about huge, huge money.

"And when you win, you are a big shot.

"You do it again and you keep doing it.

"You bet triple the amount of before and it escalates and escalates.

"Then you go into poker and private card games.

"And then you play with people that are dangerous and powerful."

Randy was betting $60,000-$70,000 a week, strictly with bookies.

"They wouldn't know me and I wouldn't know them," he said.

Working only with cash, he was constantly making trips to the bank, depositing the daily limit and stashing the rest.

At his peak three years ago, he had a bankroll of almost $1 million and was living an extraordinary lifestyle, betting as much as $20,000 a game.

"I lived at three different places at the same time," he recalled, noting he's been divorced for years, but denying the end of his marriage had anything to do with betting.

"I had everything, including very expensive vehicles."

And, of course, there were women.

"You go out and girls can smell money from miles away," he continued.

"They don't care if you have a girlfriend or have somebody, they just want to..."

Riding the wave of success, he pored over sports information.

Not using any sort of math-based formulas, it was reading, reading and more reading of the latest news that determined his wagers.

"It's like collecting comics. You really study it," Randy explained.

"I could tell if a player was doing good because he was fighting with his wife."

But life started to fall apart for Randy about two years ago.

Luck started to run out, the roller-coaster started to plummet - and Randy couldn't help himself.

"I would bet on anything," he said, recalling the mad scramble to stop the financial bleeding, "and I was losing everybody."

In the end, he lost everything.

He lost $250,000, his three homes and expensive cars. Debt was piling up at a rapid rate, prompting the terrifying visit from the debt collectors.

IMPRESSIVE STRIDES

Clean from betting for the last eight months, Randy is making impressive strides.

But staying clean isn't easy.

"I'd be lying if I told you otherwise," said the 35-year-old, who attends gamblers anonymous meetings a few times a month. "I hardly go out anymore. I stay at (my apartment) unless I go to a (GA) meeting.

"I keep in touch with the people that keep you clean. Those are your true friends."

Sitting in a trendy bar just off Jasper Avenue, having a vegetarian lunch, he's able to watch sports and talk about the games - but it will be a long time before he becomes accustomed to his new life.

"It is hard when you have that (high-rolling) lifestyle," he explained, "and you have to be a normal person now."


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