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The Addiction of Internet Poker

It is evident that the internet has redefined what poker is all about. While online poker is convenient, fun, and safe for most players, it also presents some serious consequences for many others. A problem now brewing from internet poker is the threat of its addiction. Even though online poker has only been around for a short time, its addictive nature has already impacted many lives (especially among younger players) and the problem continues to grow.

Before going into specifics about the current state of online poker, it should be noted that the internet itself creates many problems for those apt to developing addictions. The internet has certain characteristics that make it dangerous for potential addicts to get hooked: It is extremely easy to access; it is affordable and oftentimes free; it allows anonymity and thus prevents pressure and judgment from outside observers; it presents a form of digital escape for those frustrated with the toils of daily life; it allows for a high “event frequency” (meaning the amount of times the behavior can be conducted in a given time period); and it presents an opportunity for interactivity among those who are normally disinclined to engage in the actual world (Girffiths and Wood, 2004). The internet also acts as a medium through which to fuel other forms of addiction, such as gambling.

Specifically, online poker has a rather addictive nature that often affects younger generations. College age students are especially apt to developing online poker addictions, and the problem is starting to surface on many college campuses. The University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center predicts that over 20% of college students (mostly male) play online poker at least once a month (Romer, 2005). In a walk around a typical campus (such as UC Berkeley) one can see many students playing online poker in the library, in class, or in their rooms. Virtually everyone either plays online poker, or knows someone who does. There have been horror stories of kids failing out of classes or losing their tuitions due to online poker. Some have even turned to criminal activities in order to pay their online poker debts (Kerkstra, 2006). Others consider online poker a “job” that requires serious attention and dedication. Certain online poker sites cater to college students— even offers a tournament where the winner gets his/her college tuition payed for. College counselors are noticing that the problem is gaining rapid momentum (Stutz, 2005). The Annenberg Public Policy Center discovered that among young gamblers who played every week, over half reported at least one serious problem as a by-product (Romer, 2005). The center also concludes that at least 5 percent of adult online gamblers become addicted and that the rate for young adults is closer to 10 percent. This means that internet poker is either ruining or consuming the lives of thousands of students.

Many factors contribute to the addictiveness of internet poker. When playing traditional poker, people do not usually take their entire bankroll to the casino. Rather, they take only the portion that they are willing to lose. But with online poker, your entire bankroll is just a mouse-click away. You can transfer as much money as you need to without ever leaving your chair. And under the cloak of anonymity, people feel less pressure to make sound plays and temper their spending. Players can make a few bad decisions and dig a hole so deep that, before they even realize it, they’ve spent their entire bankroll. Losing players who want to win their money back can enter a downward spiral of addiction.

As noted in the previous section, online poker chips are an abstraction of actual chips (which themselves are an abstraction of actual money). Their image on the computer screen does not hold the same weight as physical chips or money—the digital chips seem no more dangerous than bullets fired in shoot-‘em-up video games (Kregier, “It’s Not Real, Is It?” 2004). It is easier to wager imaginary chips that do not seem real at all. Online poker’s lack of fiscal reality lends itself to hooking susceptible youths into addiction.

Online poker also offers dreams of making a fortune. Sites always advertise the great successes of normal players while (for obvious reasons) neglecting to mention the more numerous failure stories. As mentioned earlier, Chris Moneymaker and Greg Raymer were both amateur online poker players who ended up winning the World Series of Poker, the most famous and prestigious poker tournament of all. Kids know about the success stories and want a piece of the action. Young players who dream of making it big in poker like the pros are akin to those who see professional athletes and feel they can make it big in sports (Stutz, 2005) . The problem is that in order to “practice” and become better at online poker, players often lose a lot of money and become addicted in the process. Oftentimes, inexperienced players can indeed get lucky and go on hot streaks. They come to believe that they too have a shot at making serious money. Even though the luck and hot streaks eventually cool off, the addicted player remembers what it’s like to succeed and strives to make it happen again.

Finally, college age students are prone to thinking that they are smarter than the average player. They feel they know the strategies and statistics involved with poker. Online poker is truly a form of “psychological warfare,” and those who are in the prime of their mental enhancement feel they have the psychological edge (Kerkstra, 2006). Those who fail to win often fail to realize that their scholarly intelligence will not always translate into gambling success. Youths that refuse to accept their limitations can fall victim to addiction.

It is clear that young players are susceptible to developing an addiction to online poker for numerous reasons. But what should be done to curb the growing trend of internet poker addiction?

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