Addicted or Reckless?
The son of a friend of mine was in trouble a couple of years ago – he’d done too much internet gambling and lost way beyond his means playing poker and blackjack online. When his mother told me about it, my first thought was: blackjack? Of course the sucker lost. My second was: I hope this is the end of his gambling phase.
His parents paid the debt and he promised he wouldn’t bet online anymore. Two years passed seemingly gambling-free. But, no huge surprise, he did it again; this time playing poker only and losing a ridiculous amount in one day. Or at least he told his mother it was only one day. She paid some of it and told him he’d have to find the rest.
He’s in his early twenties, just out of university. I’ve been asked to have a talk with him and here’s my problem: I have no idea what to say. I know he doesn’t consider himself an addict, and wouldn’t go to Gamblers Anonymous even if they promised him a date with Kate Moss. You can’t convince someone they have a problem until they’ve convinced themselves.
So my options seem limited. Do I tell him to, whenever he’s tempted, play in a multi-player low-stakes slow tournament and spend a couple of hours doing his best to earn $25? At which point the urge to gamble will be dulled a little? Or does that just lead him straight back to the online tables?
Apparently he thinks he’s a good player. Do I ask him whether he knows the odds of every single hand dealt and inform him that until he does, he shouldn’t be anywhere near a game? Or does that simply make him actually learn the odds? He’s an impatient young man and I suspect he has no idea how much boredom is involved in learning how to play well, but an old friend of his mother’s may not be the person who will convince him of the seriousness of the game.
I’m aware I should tell his mother never to bail him out, even partially, again, but will that actually stop him if he’s an addict? And that’s the crucial question: is he already, by betting more than he can afford, an addict? Has he displayed dyed-in-the-baize symptoms which mean he can never place a bet again, or is there some way he can train himself out of reckless gambling and into a ‘normal’, if there is such a thing, poker player?
It’s strange, given all the time I have spent in casinos and on poker cruises, but I have yet to meet a poker player I consider to be an addict. The only one who springs to mind is Stu Ungar, but was he addicted to gambling or to drugs?
The year before last, when the 19 year old college boy from Atlanta won the EPT event in Monte Carlo, I watched as older, experienced pros counselled him to be wise with his money and to look to the future, not go wild with the first flush – or full house – of success. He seemed to take it in his stride, but there are so many young men and women out there now playing, especially online : who is watching over them?
There are so many fine lines to draw in this psychological arena of addiction, and I have no idea where to draw them. I’m hoping someone out there in cyberspace does.