Internet poker addiction rises among college students
By Nick Sortal, Sun Sentinel
7:09 p.m. EDT, October 19, 2010
It begins one night in a college dorm room, with a few wins on a free poker website, against other novice players.
It evolves into an online hobby, a small bankroll and some all-night sessions on the computer.
But somewhere along the line, the stakes get too high and debts mount, until nothing else matters but poker. And it's becoming a growing problem statewide, according to the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling.
The council's recent report says Florida college kids are twice as likely as the general population to be compulsive gamblers, and the biggest problem is young men playing poker online. It doesn't help that they're seeing televised poker tournaments starring phenoms barely old enough to drink.
"A whole new generation of kids thinks that what they want to do when they finish school is be a professional poker player," said Dr. Jeffrey L. Derevensky of McGill University, who analyzed data gathered from seven Florida colleges and universities.
College life, with plenty of free time and newfound independence, provides the perfect opportunity to sit down and play as much as you want, he says.
Arnie Wexler, a part-time Boynton Beach resident and gambling addiction consultant, says about one-third of the hotline calls to 888-LAST-BET are from college students or parents of students who are in too deep.
Among the callers was Marc, of Boynton Beach, who declined to give his last name. The 21-year-old said he dropped out of college and ended up stealing money from friends and family to play poker online.
"I had a great college life, but then poker became all I wanted to do," he says. "It consumed my life."
Poker is young man's game
In this summer's World Series of Poker, eight of the nine players who made the final table were 29 or younger. It's also a man's game: Only 3 percent of the 7,319 entrants were women.
What reels them in are the success stories, including that of Joe Cada, a 21-year-old college dropout who won the 2009 World Series of Poker.
Meanwhile, big-time live poker, the next step up from online play, is often just a few miles down the highway. The Florida Legislature and Gov. Charlie Crist lifted poker betting limits this spring, and the new rules took effect July 1. The change put Florida in the major leagues: The World Poker Tour is even coming to South Florida for the first time, conducting a tournament in April at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood.
Gamblers Anonymous, one of the groups the Florida council refers people to, is seeing more young men coming in for help with online poker addiction.
"We're getting about one a week," said Robert, a Broward County resident who tried to stop gambling at age 27 but had regular lapses for another eight years.
Today, he regrets "all the wasted days" as well as lost money from Internet poker in the early 2000s. Now 40, he hasn't gambled in the past four years. Addiction recovery is difficult even for more mature men, he says, so few of the younger ones tend to stick with the meetings. And their being there at all is a new occurrence from the past couple of years, he says.
"It's a rare person who can get away from it at a young age," he says. "They're usually not mature enough or humble enough to ask for help."