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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 August, 2004, 08:34 GMT 09:34 UK
'Hidden cost' of online gambling
By Richard Crompton
BBC News

Online gambling is like having a casino in your own home, with roulette, poker, blackjack, all available 24 hours a day.

Gambling chips
Online casinos are open 24 hours a day
As an industry, it is booming, with tens of millions of pounds bet online in the UK everyday.

But there are fears that the ease of playing will mean people run up debts they cannot afford to pay back.

John O'Reilly, managing director of e-gaming at Ladbrokes, appreciates the scale of the industry.

"In the last five to six years internet gambling has really mushroomed from nothing," he says.

"In poker, we're turning over 10m in pots every day. That's money that customers are staking one against the other. It's a significant business."

Fun and games

Rachel Stockton is the kind of customer who is being attracted to online casinos for the first time.

The young and down-to-earth office manager from Luton plays most days, but keeps a close eye on her spending. She never risks more than a few pounds at a time.

"It's just a bit of fun," she says. For her, the appeal lies in playing anonymously.

Casino in Las Vegas
You don't have to physically walk anywhere. You don't have to take your purse out of your handbag or your wallet out of your back pocket
Anonymous gambler
"If you were to say to me, let's go down to the casino to play, I'd say no way. I just wouldn't go down the casino. I'd be too frightened."

And she insists that she would never let her playing get out of control.

"If it's not fun any more I won't play," she says.

But not everyone has such a positive experience.

Another woman, who did not want to be named, told the BBC that she had lost nearly 45,000 on online poker in just four weeks.

She had sold her flat to raise capital for a new business. While the money was sitting in her account, she became addicted to online poker.

"There's no reality check," she warns, comparing the ease of gambling in online casinos to their real-world counterparts.

"You don't have to physically walk anywhere. You don't have to take your purse out of your handbag or your wallet out of your back pocket.

"You just press a few buttons and that's it."

'Hidden addiction'

For her, the results have been disastrous. She lost the chance to start her new business, has suffered from depression and her partner walked out.

"If somebody had said to me, two years ago, that this would happen, I would have laughed in their face," she says.

"But it's just not real, it's like playing a GameBoy or a PlayStation. It's just like a video game."

People who deal with habitual gamblers believe that the potential scale of problems caused by online gaming is mind-boggling.

"Gambling's a hidden addiction, but we're looking at the hidden end of a hidden addiction," says Faith Freestone from the Gordon House Association, a charity which runs residential rehabilitation courses for problem gamblers.

"At the moment we really don't know how many people are experiencing problems because we can't find them. They're in their own homes. And they're reluctant to come forward for treatment through the normal channels."

She draws a parallel with alcoholism. "The minute alcohol got into supermarkets and was consumed in the home, far more women and young people started to have problems.

"If that trend's the same, we're potentially looking at a new breed of gambler who is going to need a new kind of treatment."




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
The BBC's Adrian Addison
"Some online gamblers get in too deep"



SEE ALSO:
Limit Vegas-style casinos, say MPs
22 Jul 04 |  UK Election 2005
Vegas on Sea
09 Jun 04 |  Business
Gambling addict jailed over theft
23 Apr 04 |  Southern Counties
Gambling shake-up 'risks health'
20 Apr 04 |  UK Election 2005


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