With the availability of online games of chance, gambling is on the rise in the U.S. Gambling on the Internet is largely an unregulated industry. According to the U.S. National Gambling Impact Study Commission, established by Congress in 1997, more than 1,300 online casinos rake in more than US $650 million dollars a year. The gambling industry currently estimates the total at about US $2 billion.
Computer gambling e-businesses typically operate on servers outside the US, allowing them to fold and run practically overnight in case of suspected fraud. Hackers have been known to steal funds by accessing credit card numbers and manipulate game outcomes.
Gambling problems cost US citizens an estimated US $5 billion annually. However, these numbers do not reveal the toll on addicted gamblers and their families. With little control over who has access, hours of operation, or the types of games available, online gaming can be dangerous for those who get a “rush” when the online slots spin.
Unlike the public setting of a horse racetrack or traditional casino, Internet gambling is often done alone, and can go uninterrupted and undetected for unlimited periods of time. A woman using the name “Chris” says she already had a history of gambling abuse–and 3 months of prior recovery with Gamblers Anonymous–when she discovered online gambling. “It made it so easy,” she says. “When you’re on the Internet, and you put $500 dollars on your credit card, it’s like play money. You don’t even feel like you’re putting money down.” Internet gambling cost her US$40,000 in 4 months.
Chris hid her financial pit from her husband by taking out more credit cards. “He asked me to stop and I said that I would, and I wanted to but I couldn’t,” she says. “I feel like I was thinking almost like an insane person.”