Gambling it all

MIKE VESEL

Jen has a favorite seat at
the casino. She knows
which slot machine is going
to “hit it big” and will proceed
to play it for hours on
end until it pays off.
Sometimes, she says, it does
– most of the times it doesn’t.
Jen is a 25-year-old gambling
addict, one of the
many in a growing generation
of addicts.
Jen has suffered from a
gambling addiction, hidden
from even her fiance, for
several years.
“Its all about the thrill.
You pull that lever and you
win some money, and you
know that if you can get
that jackpot you can get a
house, a car, whatever you
want,” she said.
Jen’s addiction became a
facet of her daily life. She
buys a scratch-off ticket
every day and twice a
month, sometimes more,
she goes to Parx Casino in
Bensalem to try to win it
big.
“(At a previous gambling
session) I walked in with
$20 and got up to $800,”
said Jen.
Her winning spree soon
took a downward spiral – in
eight hours, and with the
aid of a conveniently placed
ATM, she was $700 in the
hole.
The problems peaked
when Jen got a higher paid
job in the Fall of 2010.
“(Her fiance) didn’t know
what I was getting paid,”
said Jen.
She told her fiance that
she was being paid the same
rate as her previous
employer. The extra she
would slush off to gamble
away each month at her
favorite slot machine.
For Jen this compulsion to
gamble is relatively new. It
wasn’t until the construction
of the Bensalem casino
that her addiction began.
Pennsylvania has found
itself to be in the center of
the ever-expanding gambling
industry. According
to the American Gaming
Association, the state rakes
in $929 million in casino tax
revenue. The racetrack portion
of the Parx Casino in
Bensalem is the fifth most
profitable racetrack in the
continental U.S., with annual
profits of almost $360 million.
According to the PA
Bureau of Drug and Alcohol
Programs, 3 to 5 percent of
gamblers become “problem
gamblers;” they are addicted
to the thrill and rush of
gambling.
C.P Malarchi, a gambling
addiction-certified counselor,
says 25 percent of the
people he treats are college
age.
“That age bracket is very
susceptible,” said Malarchi.
According to Malarchi, for
college-age gamblers casinos
aren’t the main draw.
“Online gambling is
quickly becoming the No. 1
thing to do on campuses,
even over drinking.”
The surge, Malarchi says,
is due to online poker sites
like Full Tilt and Pokerstars,
which have been popping
up in the past decade.
Pokerstars, with 100,000
players on at any given
time, boasts that it is the
largest online poker room in
the world. The poker site
makes money from what’s
called “rake,” which is a
fractional percentage of a
bet pot from each hand
played.
According
to Forbes
Ma g a z i n e ,
with only
earning pennies
per
h a n d ,
Poke r s t a r s
earns an
impres s ive
$1.4 billion in
annual revenue
and
$500 million
in pure profits.
With more
and more
people playing, profit is
only growing for online
poker rooms: According to
the American Gaming
Association, online gambling
profits have seen a 30
percent increase since the
year 2000.
With profits rocketing
skyward in the last decade,
it’s become obvious that
gambling is quickly becoming
an American obsession.
In 2009 ESP reported that
the airing of The World
Series of Poker drew 2.1
million viewers. Gambling
has even saturated our
social networking sites.
Zynga’s “Texas Hold’em,” a
poker game where you can
pay real cash for fake
money, saw an average 26
million monthly players in
2010, making it the fourth
most played game on
Facebook behind
” C a f e W o r l d ” a n d
“FarmVille.”
Counselor Malarki says
the damage from gambling
addiction is similar to that
seen in an alcoholic. A compulsive
gambler will not
only see grades drop, have
attendance issues and difficulty
concentrating, but also
suffer from a host of physical
symptoms due to temporary
withdrawal. Some of
these symptoms, says
Malarki, include stomach
p a i n s / ” k n o t t i n g , ”
headaches, dramatic mood
swings, even anxiety and
depression.
Malarki says the most susceptible
age group to gambling
addiction are late high
school students. James, a 21-
year-old poker player, got
his start when he was in
high school.
He disagrees with the idea
of gambling’s addictiveness
and Malarki’s comparison
with alcoholism.
“Gambling isn’t that bad.
To even casually associate it
with alcoholism seems dangerous,”
James said. “.
Drinking is a much bigger
problem. You ever see anybody
getting gambling poisoning?
See anybody get
into a car crash because
they were in the middle of a
hand? – No, of course not,”
said James.
He added: “Being a gambling
addict is about as
damaging as being addicted
to World of Warcraft … anything
that can kill you is 100
percent more damaging.
Being addicted to snowboarding
is more dangerous
and damaging than being a
gambling addict.”
Unlike Jen, James didn’t
get his start in gambling at a
casino. At the age of 16
James began playing poker
online on Pokerstars. From
there he began traveling
around New Jersey, playing
in illegal, high-stakes
underground poker games.
In his career as an underground
poker player, James
made thousands of dollars
in competitions and ring
games. One such tournament,
played in the basement
of the host’s New
Jersey home, netted James a
pot of $5,700.
“It was a lot easier than
going to Atlantic City. You
could play closer to home,
the challenge was better,
and no rake . You can get
a bad beat, but if you play
smart, don’t lose your cool,
you can make it back in the
long run,” said James.
James says the game doesn’t
make the addict, the
addict plays the game.
“There is an important
term in poker, ’tilt’ (playing
while emotional). .
Everybody goes on tilt at
some point. You get cracked
by a real bad hand, and
once you do, you gotta
move. A smart player walks
away – the addict can’t,”
said James.
Do you think you have a
gambling problem? Malarki
suggests curbing the frequency
of your gaming.
“Set up a goal for yourself
. If you find out that you
can’t achieve those new
goals, then you probably
have a problem,” said
Malarki.