"The House of Representatives voted passed -- by a margin of 317 to 93 -- a bill that would outlaw the use of credit cards on Internet gambling sites, and even allow service providers to block access to the sites themselves. And federal prosecutors recently busted online gambling site BETonSPORTS executive David Carruthers in a U.S. airport as he was changing flights.
Presumably the House and federal prosecutors had hopes for helping folks like me, gambling addicts, in mind when taking action. But my experience with online gambling may help shed some light on what if anything the political class should do about eBetting.
My habit began fairly innocuously at the age of 18 while I was studying for my university degree. I'd bet a little on big sporting events -- soccer, mostly. I occasionally stayed up nights to gamble on baseball. I didn't really understand the rules, but I was more than happy to stay awake in the hope that the team in the white shirts would run around the diamond more than the team in the blue shirts. It was a fun hobby, and it didn't cost much.
I couldn't say exactly when my gambling became a problem. Sometime in my second year of university I began staying up every night to watch US sports -- gambling a hundred, two hundred pounds on football, basketball and baseball. I missed classes and turned in my work late, if at all. Meanwhile, the stakes kept getting higher. I'd find myself betting £500 ($900) on a football (soccer) match -- more than I could hope to earn in a month. When there was no football being played I'd bet on things I knew nothing about: ice hockey, golf, cricket -- even the closing value of the New York stock exchanges. The day I discovered online casinos I graduated to a new level at which I could place a wager every minute, day or night. I made and lost fortunes, plummeting from unbelievable highs to almost suicidal lows in the blink of an eye.
I won't take you through all the tawdry details of my addiction, but online gambling cost me around £25,000 ($45,000) over three years. I had to drop out of university for a spell, and by the time I re-enrolled I'd fallen so far behind I had to repeat a year of study. I destroyed friendships. I damaged my relationship with my family almost beyond repair. I forfeited the right to trust and respect. It was only blind luck that I had people around me who still cared enough to bring me back from the edge.
You'd think, then, that I'd support any measures that might save others from going through the same agony. You'd think I'd hate gambling for what it did to me. Well, no. You see, what I learned is that it wasn't gambling that almost ruined me. It wasn't the flashing banner ads that enticed me at every turn on the Internet. It wasn't the temptation of easy money. I don't blame the bookmakers, websites or casinos one bit.
The fact that I gambled was my own fault. I worried obsessively about my life, and the only avenue of escape I could imagine was to gamble. You shouldn't expect solid logic from a compulsive gambler, but in my head I truly expected to win enough money so that I wouldn't need a degree; enough so that I'd never have to work. I wanted to escape from the pressures of university, and the uncertainty of what would come afterwards.
The same goes for every other gambler I spoke to. During my long (and still ongoing) recovery I spent hundreds of hours on compulsive gambling forums on the Internet. Almost every compulsive gambler I have spoken with believes that the reason they gamble is to escape problems in their personal life. A mortgage, a bad job, an unhappy marriage -- they all gamble for the moments of escape it brings -- moments in which they can forget what they have to go back to, and fantasize about a life without difficulties and complications. I've never spoken to a single compulsive gambler who claims to have started just for fun.
Based on my experience both as a compulsive gambler and a member of addiction support groups, I've always found the reasoning behind arguments to ban gambling misguided. The people who advocate it seem to see gambling as the antecedent of all social ills -- the cause of such things as crime, violence and suicide. I don't subscribe to that belief. Compulsive gambling isn't the cause, but rather the manifestation of pre-existing problems. We gamblers start off with something wrong with our heads -- the addiction is just the visible symptom. If you were to take away the gambling, the root causes of our dysfunction would still be there. I can't prove this, of course. It's simply a belief based on my experience.
Those who are against gambling can, perhaps, draw some comfort from that. If you agree with my view then you'll understand that widespread availability of gambling won't turn us all into an army of drooling simpletons who lose the grocery money playing online baccarat. Some will be more susceptible than others to the lure of easy money, but most will see gambling as what it is: a rather expensive form of entertainment, best used as an occasional pastime rather than a day job.
Instead of vilifying the gambling industry, then, it seems a more productive use of our resources would be to look into the reasons so many people find their lives so hopeless and unfulfilling that they feel their only option is to gamble them away. How should we fund our investigation, you ask? Well, taxes from legalized online gambling may put a few extra dollars in the government coffers. Just a thought.
Keith Taylor is a writer and ex-gambler living in the UK http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=072606F