On Gambling Addiction

The vast majority of online poker players, I’m sure, play for fun at small stakes, and spend no more in a losing session than they would in a night out at the movies or in a bar. For some, however, poker becomes much worse than that.

Hit a set of 6s on a J-6-2 rainbow flop against the Donkey at the table, the one who is wearing a fake Versace rayon shirt whose outrageous patterning is the only thing taking attention away from his Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses and the poor, doting, usually underage girlfriend who sits behind his right shoulder, awash in the illusion that her boyfriend is Paul Newman from The Hustler—well, win $5,000 off a guy like that and you stop worrying about ethics and your misspent youth.

That’s from an excellent essay-length memoir of a gambling addict. Problem gambling, in my opinion, doesn’t get enough attention in the online gambling world. Except in France, where all online poker rooms are required to prominently promote a free-call hotline for problem gamblers.

Here’s a Rounders moment from the piece:

The stripper lowered her glasses to the tip of her nose and stared at me with sympathetic eyes. She muttered, “Baby, it’s a bad time to hit the second best full house…” and pushed the rest of her money into the middle. The table gasped in delight. She flipped over her two kings. My tens full of kings were beat by her kings full of tens. I have no idea what the last card was, just that it wasn’t the case ten, the only card in the deck that would’ve won me the hand. The fantastic stripper apologized and apologized again as she stacked up my $9,000. I couldn’t face her sincerity, so I got up from the table and wandered off to the sports book, where I dropped myself down on a club chair and wondered aloud what exactly had happened.

I think more countries should follow France’s lead and regulate online poker. Make it 100% explicitly legal but require strict player identification methods, make it possible to ban those with problems, and promote ways to quit. In France you can request a voluntary, non-reversible self-ban from all French casinos, online and otherwise for a period of three years.