Kevin John Pinto's gambling habits cost him his job, his marriage and his freedom.

A former Bay Street financier serving time for robbing banks to fund his gambling habits says he still has to fight the urge to place bets.

Kevin John Pinto, 39, says his compulsion to gamble was so dire the first call he made at the police station after he was initially arrested wasn't to a lawyer or a loved one — it was to his bookie to place a bet.

"Some people jump out of airplanes and parachute. Some people do whitewater rafting. For me it was watching sports on TV and gambling on sports," he told CBC in an exclusive interview from Collins Bay Institution, a medium-security correctional facility in Kingston, Ont., where he is serving his sentence.

He spoke to CBC in mid-December, a week after his parole application was denied. He said that decision was justified because he believes he has not yet been able to master his gambling problem, for which he is currently receiving counselling.

"In a sense I'm glad I'm in prison, because if I wasn't in prison I would still be out there, probably gambling and probably committing crimes," he said.

Police called Pinto the "Exchange Bandit" because he always asked tellers for the U.S. exchange rate before slipping them a holdup note.

He admitted to robbing 10 banks in Toronto and nearby Peel Region between January 2002 and September 2008 in order to feed a gambling habit he said was "out of control."

'I knew then it was over'

Although Pinto evaded capture for years, his luck caught up with him on Oct. 2, 2008, two and a half weeks after he robbed a Scotiabank branch on King Street West in downtown Toronto.

That's when a co-worker at Paradigm Capital — the investment firm where he worked as a compliance officer and earned an annual salary of "roughly a quarter million dollars" — sent him a link to a media report connecting him to a bank robbery investigation.

"And I clicked on that and I just could not breathe. I knew then it was over."

Pinto spoke to a lawyer that evening and agreed to turn himself in. He said he contemplated suicide that night but dismissed that thought after receiving a reassuring call from his brother.

He surrendered the next day, was remanded into custody at Toronto's Don Jail and was sentenced to a six year-term in November 2009, which taking into account time he had served in custody, amounted to a term of three years and nine months.

Pinto turned to robbing banks in order to cover mounting gambling debts he incurred after securing loans from a handful of cash-advance outlets.

The first time he robbed the bank, he walked around the building for four hours to steel himself to go through with the deed.

"I tried not to look at the tellers because I didn't want to see the fear in their eyes. I do remember one of the tellers' hands shaking as she was trying to get the money," he said.

"At that point in time I was numb. I just wanted the money for myself, and get out of there as quick as I could. But when you have an addiction you're just looking for the next high, just like a drug addict would be."

The robberies netted him more than $33,000, although by the time he was sentenced, he was more than $100,000 in debt.
The obsession

Pinto said he led a double life during which he would work 12-hour days, then go out for drinks and dinner and then watch games to bet at night.

He would send money to a bookie in Costa Rica or Jamaica and then Pinto would generally place bets on games over his cellphone, sometimes online.

His obsession cost him many relationships, including his marriage, which ended in 2005. He also lost his job after his arrest.

"I've lost the trust of my family," he said. "Basically I've got to earn the trust back of everyone. And I know it's going to be a long road, it's going to be a hard road, but I've taken the first step and that's being honest with myself and facing the problem head on."
The road ahead

Pinto was recently transferred from a medium-security unit to a living unit where he is given enhanced privileges and can cook his own meals.

But he still struggles with cues that trigger the gambling itch — he recently felt the urge to bet after watching a soccer game. He has resolved to stop watching sports on television, with the exception of basketball, which he says he enjoys.

Pinto hopes his experiences can shed light on the toll that problem gambling can take, particularly in Ontario, where the Liberal government will introduce its own online gaming program next year.

That venture will be "a cash cow for the government," he said. "The problem comes in when you have crimes arising from people who are addicted and getting addicted to gambling. ."

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) estimates that Ontarians spend approximately $400 million each year on unregulated online gambling — with none of that money entering government coffers through taxation or fees.

Pinto, meanwhile, hopes to return to Toronto and start anew after he is released. His next parole hearing is scheduled for July.

"I never thought I would grow up to be a bank robber and be a gambling addict, no."