Boom of Internet Poker
    A Changed Game
    The Addiction
    Beating The Addiction
    Personal Reflections

Personal Reflections

I chose to do this research project because it represents a topic that is very much a part of my life and my friends’ lives. For me, online poker is simply fun and games—I play recreationally for small amounts of money. I have played it for years and I have personally witnessed how pervasive it is in college life. I have seen how people play online poker when they realize that they should be going to class, studying, or sleeping instead. Though I have never become addicted nor witnessed anyone else who has, I have seen two of my friends develop problems with online poker. They both won a lot of money initially and felt they could easily control the game. Eventually, however, they both lost all their winnings and unsuccessfully tried to win it back. They said that the thought of losing money consumed them. They would wake up and be bothered by the fact that they had lost money the previous day. Luckily, both of my friends realized the problem they were having with online poker and they both removed the program from their computers.

Their stories showed me just how addictive internet poker could be. They were both strong enough to recognize their problems and cut themselves off. I realize that normal people who don’t have the same type of will power can easily fall prey to the addictive nature of online poker. It scares me that this fact is not well understood among the college community or among society as a whole. I felt that designing a website about internet poker’s addictive nature could spread awareness about the problem—even if only to a small number of people. Awareness is the first step toward change, and this website is just the start.

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"You state that you have never personally met an online poker addict. I guess my intention is to give you more of a personal perspective on the subject. Maybe it can help reach others before they fall into the same nightmare that I have. I sure as hell hope so. I am a 20-year-old online gambling addict, and have thrown away the past six months of my life and upwards of ten thousand dollars, as well as betrayed the trust of my parents and of my girlfriend, whom I love dearly.

It has also affected my social life and challenged my sanity. Here's how it all happened. My background is not unlike that of many college and university students, although at this point I suppose I am pretty much a dropout, even though I still have aspirations to finish with school. I grew up in Sonora, California, which is east of you in the foothills, close to Yosemite. Despite the fact that this is a relatively small, conservative town, it is very similar to many other small towns around the state that feed into the University of California. I attended Sonora High School and barely graduated, despite the fact that with a 1360, my SAT score was third highest in my class. I guess you could say that I am a guy of big dreams and small focus. My mind is always elsewhere when it comes to buckling down and getting through school. I was a distance runner, and I put more effort into competing than I did in academics. At any rate, after high school I attended Columbia Community College and did very poorly, mostly because I had too much fun outside of class, partying hard and always looking for an escape from the fact that I was still at my parents house and not, seemingly, moving on with my life. I did well only in classes that were fully engaging and interesting, such as philosphy and political science. I dropped out after a year and a half, and took a construction job. I fell in love with the trade, with having meaningful work and always having an active project to be completed. I also liked the fact that it kept me in top physical condition. At any rate, it gave me some time to refocus my thoughts and I decided that I wanted to go back to school, this time somewhere away from home. So I took the money I had saved up and went to Santa Cruz, enrolled in Cabrillo College and started looking for a place to rent. I found another construction job right away, and began to balance work and school. I camped out at my friends' houses. Then my truck died.
I ended up spending all of my housing money fixing the damn thing, and ended up living with my boss for a while. I quit going to classes because I had no reliable way to get to them from work. I eventually fixed my truck, but it was too late to go back to school. On top of all that I was trying to keep my relationship intact with my girlfriend back in Sonora, who was going to move to Santa Cruz with me but was forced to go home when her mom developed terminal cancer and needed care. So I ended up working full time during the week, and making the drive across the valley every weekend to go and give her support. Needless to say, I was really stressed.
Then it all began. I was so sick of the drive and of dealing with all of the emotional drama that she was going through, I called in sick from work and told my boss I would head back to Santa Cruz in a day or so. I stayed at home, slept in, and began to casually surf the internet. Somewhere I found a link for Partypoker, was curious, and clicked on it. I always had been a sucker for all things poker, and when I saw that I could compete with others online, I had to try it out. At first I was satisfied with playing for free, but I wanted to know what it was like to play for actual money, so I figured a small buy-in of $50 wouldn’t hurt, considering the fact that I had just been paid. I played well at first, winning nearly $300, but soon became tilted after a few bad beats and dropped my full bankroll, so I bought in again. I was losing but remained confident, and the shear pleasure I got from playing was more than I had felt in months. It was my little secret escape. By the end of the day my paycheck was gone. I wish I would have stopped there.
I had applied for the credit cards before, when I was broke and needing gas money, figuring that I could put gas on them, build some credit, and pay off the balance easily when my boss paid me. Unfortunately they came in the mail after I had overdrawn my account, so I instead used them to pay off my overdraft fees, which enabled me to gamble even more.
After a while I was using every spare minute to gamble, chasing my losses, which accrued gradually over the next few months with each attempt to win it all back and fix my situation. I began playing blackjack because it allowed me the chance to gain money faster (of course it led to larger and more frequent losses) I no longer gained pleasure from what I was doing, and it became an obsession and an obligation. There were a few days I stayed home from work, and countless nights alone in front of my computer. I quit calling my friends, or answering their calls. Rumors began to fly, and on more than one occasion I made promises and let them down. I lied to my parents multiple times about finances, became extremely irritable and depressed, and basically became uninterested in everything in my life that I value. At that point I was trying to cover my ass, and live a double life while trying to find time away from my friends to gamble online.
I decided that there was no point in continuing work in Santa Cruz, because I had no reason to try to stay there with all that was going on, so I quit my job and enrolled at Columbia again. I was back at my parents' house full time. I couldn't get the thoughts of poker and blackjack and debts out of my head, and would wake up dreaming of cards and chips. I quit going to class. My credit cards were maxed out, so I began signing up for payment services and exhausting instant credit limits, knowing full well that the bank would return the debits and charge overdraft fees, but still holding on to the hope that I would win it all back. I was too impatient to play smart poker at that point, so I became reckless, trying to buy huge pots with bad cards and losing. I was forced to drop out of school again, this time by my gambling habit.
I finally realized that I had a serious problem and that my attempts were in vain when I did win it back playing blackjack, only to lose all of it in an hour when greed took hold of me and I wanted more. I won $3000 starting with $40 on an all-night streak, enough to pay off most of my debts, but was so sick in the head at the time that I wanted more. I realized that I would never be satisfied at that point, that money had lost all value, and that I needed help. I left my parents a written confession, and told my girlfriend everything.
I sit here now, still at my parents house, but I am filled with new hope. I have another solid construction job and am working on becoming a rafting guide this summer for a while. My friends talk to me again, and my girlfriend has forgiven me (though she did almost leave me when I needed her most). I still don't know what to do with all of the debt, but for now I am just ignoring the calls and looking into filing for bankruptcy. I still have a strong urge to gamble, but have more will to resist it (I have slipped up a few times in the past few months, but am now pretty much sick of it all). I think I'll go back to class in the fall.
It is strange that there are not many support or even information groups for people like myself. Your site is one of the first that is at least informative, although honestly I find myself wanting to lobby against online gambling in general, because I know firsthand the destruction it can cause, and I also know that others are in even worse situations than myself. If nothing else, others need to be educated on the dangers of this powerful addiction before this happens to them. I still enjoy a good poker game with my friends, but steer clear of the websites. I think it is ironic that we are educated on the dangers of substance abuse in school, with which I have experimented and never had a problem with, and not the dangers of gambling addiction, especially with all of the current media craze. Thank you for your research, and good luck."



"Up until the age of about 16 everything in my life was pretty much as I wanted it. I was doing well in school and doing great in sport which was always my biggest passion. In the winter of 2002 I broke my collar bone in 2 places and was told to expect to be out of sport for about 2 months. Time away from sport was frustrating but bearable as I knew it was only temporary. Upon returning to sport I immediately broke the same collar bone and was out for another 10 weeks. During this time I develop further injuries to my back which meant a year’s absence from any real physical undertaking. I gained weight and wasn’t really enjoying life like most people off my age were. Although not aware at the time I think I fell into a slump and develop some kind of mild depression. I wasn’t always miserable I had good days and bad days alike but was a shadow of my former self.

I guess I was always associated with a stereotypical Jock like status for doing well in sports but I was also very interested in music and played the electric guitar to a high standard. As I had loosed fitness and was constantly injuring myself I subconsciously gave up on any aspirations I had with sport and as music was the other area I could relate to I think I became more of a rebel. I wasn’t to interested in school and things started to slip in most areas.

Now during the time off from sport I had a lot more free time especially on weekends. I would fill this time with just doing normal kid stuff like going to town and mucking about with friends, where previously I had played football. On one such trip to town a close friend and I stumbled into an amusement arcade where there were fruit machines that minors could play. I don’t know if you have gathered by now but I live in England where the gambling laws are very different to the US. A kid of any age can gamble in certain arcades on machines with Jackpots of up to $20. I believe from putting the very first pound into a fruit machine I awoken a sleeping demon in me that craved gambling. I guess that was just a part of me I had never become acquainted with. I am told that I have always had an obsessive nature and the gambling highlighted this character trait. I basically had no income at that point but what money I had went straight to the arcade. Sometimes I would win but nearly always that winnings would go back into the machine. I was never content on the winnings I made, I always gambled on in search of more but to no avail.

School work had definitely taken a back seat. Gambling was all I could think about I even dreamt of fruit machines. At this time I guess you could say I was a 17 year old with a very strong addiction. The only plus was that in the scheme of things it wasn’t much money (although a lot to me) and at least I wasn’t spending it on drugs and cigarettes. At that time I didn’t have a bank account with an overdraft but I did have a bank account and as soon as my weekend job earnings were sent to the account I would take them out and gamble them away usually at the pub outside of school which had 3 fruit machines (bandits) but these machines were for adults and as I was always big for my age none of the staff questioned I was under age. The bigger prizes offered on these machines the deeper I was drawn into my own world of gambling and further away from any real routine that I needed.

Luckily my parents had started to become aware of my mood swings and they decided to open one of my bank statements which showed where and when all ATM transaction had been made. They expected me to have funds of nearly £2000 but actually I had nothing and even owed friends amounts of money that I couldn’t pay back. The realization that I had a problem had been with me from the start of my gambling, but the fact my parents knew about it was the turning point. I had reached my lowest and was at breaking point, but talking and not having to bottle it up was light relief.

I managed not to play another machine for about 9months. I had a few relapses but losing money was something I had become accustomed to and the amount I had saved through not gambling was enough for me to enjoy the summer or at least on the outside it looked like was enjoying myself. This was the impression I wanted my parents to see. I didn’t really get the same kick out of life because all I could still think about was the machines.

I would go out for a drink with friends and instead of engaging in conversation would stare at the machines in the pubs. Friends were supportive to an extent but I knew deep down they thought I was a loose canon and couldn’t understand my problems like I wanted them to. My mother was similar in the way she reacted. Her father was an alcoholic and anything to do with addiction scared her beyond belief. My father was the opposite--he thought he had failed me but I assured him he hadn’t and that gambling was a demon I had in me and that I could beat it with hard work and determination and for a while I had beaten it.

The trouble with a recovering gambling addict is that one thinks to themselves “I can’t wait to be able to gamble again without it leading back into my addiction” I had constantly thought these sentiments were the secret to being cured whilst on by amnesty from gambling but after speaking to a councilor I realized I could never play machines without becoming hooked again.

Something had then changed in me; I wasn’t getting the same symptoms of an addict anymore. At one time being by a fruit machine would set my pulse racing. I would get clammy palms and my pupils would dilate, but this didn’t happen so much anymore.

I was on the home straight if you like of getting away from it for good.

I had practically flunked college but did manage a few good grades. I didn’t really welcome the prospect of going to university though. I had missed out on the last two years of growing up effectively. I hadn’t done any of the typical teenage stuff. I didn’t drink much, I didn’t smoke or go clubbing so felt that Uni was beyond me at that moment in time. I was making the most mature decision I had ever made, facing up to the fact I was probably too immature to be successful at university. Plus I couldn’t trust my self to have a student loan and use it for what it was intended. I knew there was a real risk of flittering it away falling into my old habits. The prospect of having no money no friends and no family close to home scared the shit out of me so I never even bothered to look into a Uni placement, much to my friends and teachers amazement. Instead I joined my father to work as a building apprentice. I did enjoy working with my dad; we have always been so close and we have the kind of relationship where we could be around each other 24/7 and not irritate one another, a skill that I don’t feel I have even with my closest of friends. So work was great, my relationship was great and soon I would be passing my driving test so life was better than it had been in a long time.

Being away from competitive sport I felt like I was missing out on a big part of life that formally I had enjoyed. Even now I believe if I hadn’t injured myself I probably would not have found gambling. Sport gave me some kind of release that added structure to my life and gave me goals to strive for I loved the buzz of winning and the appreciation and respect for doing well. I decided I would play pool and snooker at a competitive level. I had always been a very good player anyway and it was a natural progression. It wasn’t my favorite sport but I knew I could play the games without worrying about injury and I could enjoy the competition.

In hindsight this was the worse thing that could happen. Pool is great, I love the game but the drawback is many people who play the game have strong links to the gambling world. After 18 months of playing I represented my county and a host of local teams. One such team had very strong links to gambling. Two of the players who are very good friends of mine are professional gamblers. Naturally when I learnt of this fact I just couldn’t get enough of the lifestyle they had. I knew it was gambling but poker wasn’t fruit machines and to that day I had never gambled on anything else other than machines so honestly didn’t expect it to become a problem in the way it had before.

I was taught to play poker by two semis professional poker players and was now in an environment where poker was commonly played at pool matches

I had success at poker too. It has probably not cost me any money at all. I love the intricacies of the game. I love the buzz of winning and I love to gamble of a fashion.

I would estimate I had won over 15.000 dollars and that total could have been much more substantial if it wasn’t for a couple of reasons.

I couldn’t just play for 1 or 2 hours a week--it became 24/7. When at work I would be thinking of poker. I was totally obsessed with the game. Its on TV all the time, we see celebrities who can’t even play the game properly on TV playing. It’s everywhere. My girlfriend knew about my previous addiction and was a great support about it. She could see me becoming the same sorry individual again. It got so bad that a week after I won $3000 in an online tournament she left me. I fell so low that for 10 weeks, I played poker and just consistently lost. I was now playing poker as my living and wasn’t making anything. Night after night I would start to play and lose what I had built up before my relationship broke down. Then I would become so disillusioned by it all I would go jogging at night for 7or 8 miles at 3 or 4 in the morning. I didn’t like playing but would do so anyway. I was becoming that person again and I could see myself going off the rails. Honestly who goes jogging at 4 am? I did and I thought it was rational. I knew why I was doing it too--I just wanted to be free from gambling I wanted to be the happy 16 year old who had the world at his feet loving life and living it the way it should be. But with gambling in my life I could never be that way again. So even though I didn’t lose much in the long run I gave it up for good, although its always tempting to relapse I think I have broken the back of the addiction.

In summary I don’t want to preach about the rights and wrongs of poker and gambling or point the finger of blame. I am only 21 years old. I guess I can say I have gained life experience through gambling. “What doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger” sounds corny I know, but maybe there some truth to it. Like I said financially poker didn’t ruin me, mentally it pushed me to the edge and lost me my girlfriend, my friends’ and family’s respect as well as my dignity. However I feel I have come out the other side relatively unscathed compared to what many others problem gamblers have to face.

My advice is this: As the individual you know if you have a poker problem. Only you can fix it. Yes it’s so tempting to give in to weakness and yes society doesn’t do enough to help people like me, but at the end of it all we have to choose whether it becomes more and more of a problem. I used to think my destiny was out of my hands and that my life was dictated by this cruel addiction, but I have learnt and I hope you can too that we do have our choices. The correct choice is often the hardest. Discipline and determination can set you free."


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