At universities across the country, online gambling is on the rise, and along with it comes a more convenient way to gamble, and an easier way for college students to get addicted.

Johns Hopkins junior Brian Benson says that he gambles at least 15 hours a week, mostly on partypoker.com, which boasts 65,000 registered members. It is free to register and there are games 24 hours a day, with dozens of tournaments every week.

Benson says that part of the appeal of gambling, especially for college students (a notoriously moneyless demographic group) is very simple.

“It’s a good way to make money,” he explains. That is, if you’re as lucky as him.

Benson started gambling in casual games with his friends, and it’s from them that he heard about partypoker.com.

Since then, he’s been on a winning streak that doesn’t seem to be letting up. Though he’s not specific about how much money he has won, Benson is upfront about the fact that he’s making money. “I’m not losing, so there’s no reason to stop gambling,” he says.

In this thinking, he is not alone. According to The National Council on Problem Gambling, 85 percent of Americans have gambled at some point during their life, and 60 percent have gambled within the past year.

Two million Americans meet the criteria for pathological gambling, and as many as six million more can be considered problem gamblers, a number that is steadily rising.

Brian Benson estimates that 30 percent of the males at Hopkins gamble regularly, with the percentage for females being much lower.

But would most of these people say that they are addicted to gambling? Probably not.

Addiction is a word that conjures up thoughts of drug addicts and alcoholics, not college students making money off of their computers.

A 2003 study at the University of Cambridge, however, found that the effect of gambling on the brain is quite similar to the effect that cocaine has.

In both situations, the amount of dopamine, a chemical messenger related to happiness, increases. In gambling, the dopamine increases most drastically right before the outcome or reward is revealed. This high is what drives gamblers on.

The Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery explains that the cycles which problem gamblers experience are synonymous with the cycles that drug addicts go through. The cycle includes the high, or win, as well as using their addiction to escape pain. Real pathological gamblers are addicted not to the money but to the action of the game.

Gamblers Anonymous provides a list of 20 questions that people who think they might have a gambling problem should ask themselves. If you answer yes to at least seven of the questions, you might be a compulsive gambler. The questions include:

-Did you ever lose time from school or work due to gambling?

-After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?

-Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?

-Did you ever gamble longer than planned?

Even if you are not a compulsive gambler now, and simply play a little poker here and there, poker is the equivalent of a gateway drug, an easy transition into becoming addicted to gambling. Video poker and slot machines have been referred to as the “crack cocaine of gambling”, because they provide immediate gratification. People who start out with these forms of gambling progress more quickly and more often into pathological gambling than people who start out with other types of betting. In addition, the younger you are when you start gambling, the more likely you are to develop a problem.

Gambling has become such a fad among college students that a Web site, www.collegepokerchampionship.com, allows users to register what school they are from in order to help their college gain points. The more qiu qiu online users a college has, and the more times those users win, the more points the college gets.

I’m sure you’ll be glad to know that at 135th place, Hopkins is beating out Princeton (267th) and Harvard (684th) in the tournament.

Though, this may not be something to be proud of; statistically people who gamble tend to be less honest, more reliant on money, and more likely to have committed other crimes than people who don’t gamble, just like drug addicts or alcoholics.

According to a dictionary of gambling terms, an “Action Jackson” is someone who gambles every day.

While that doesn’t sound half bad, especially if you’re winning money, make sure gambling doesn’t take over your life, because some day you’ll lose.

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