Students wager, risk addiction

Claire Brown

Every week in an Allison Hall dorm room, a McCormick freshman and his friends set up their usual poker game – but only after locking their door to avoid getting caught by any Community Assistants.

“People were playing in the lobby with chips and (the CAs) told them, ‘you’re not allowed to gamble,'” said the freshman, who asked to remain anonymous. “They offered to play without chips, but (the CAs) still said no.”

From online poker to fantasy sports wagers and betting on games, Northwestern students in residential halls across campus have engaged in gambling, which is a violation of both campus rules and Illinois state law. But NU students are not alone, as about 50 percent of college students nationwide report having gambled in the last year, according to Kristy L. Wanner, a doctoral student at the University of Missouri. She is also the former coordinator of Keeping the Score, a gambling prevention program for college students.

About 3 percent to 8 percent of college students are considered problem- or pathological-gamblers, Wanner said. Problem- or pathological-gamblers tend to withdraw from friends and family, struggle with schoolwork and become more vulnerable to depression and mental illness than non-gamblers, Wanner said.

Gamblers are also more likely to develop problems with drugs and alcohol and to engage in risky sexual behavior, because gambling triggers the same chemical rush as alcohol and drugs, she said.

“If people would think that getting addicted to alcohol and drugs would be problematic, it’s the same for gambling,” Wanner said.

Some NU students reported gambling regularly each week and said the most common types of gambling on campus are poker and professional sports betting. NU’s handbook reiterates that “Illinois law prohibits gambling in any form” and, therefore, “any event that suggests University endorsement of gambling is not permissible.”

Gambling on campus is not on the forefronts of administrators’ minds, said Interim Dean of Students Burgie Howard, and NU has not yet dealt with a case involving gambling this year.

“It’s not something we hear about frequently,” Howard said. “Is it always a back-of-mind concern? Yes.”

Howard added, however, administrators are most concerned with online forms of gambling as they are “something that can be done very privately.”

A Weinberg senior said he has been playing online poker for the last three to four years and won more than $100,000 in a June 2008 tournament. The student said he also plays in a few regular poker games on campus, but “higher stakes games don’t exist on campus at all.”

“The level of action that a serious gambler would be interested in is not on campus,” said the student, who also asked to remain anonymous.

Wanner said college students are no more likely to suffer from gambling addiction problems than any other demographic.

“It doesn’t correlate with one group,” she said. “It crosses gender, socioeconomic and ethnic lines.”

Another student gambler, who also asked to remain anonymous, said he had a history of addictive behavior.

“I had an arcade addiction,” the Communication freshman said. “I would spend $100 at an arcade trying to win an Xbox and come home with plastic sunglasses.”

If students want to confront gambling addictions, Counseling and Psychological Services is available to help, Howard said. For more serious cases, administrators would help in connecting the student with an expert in the Chicago area and would deal individually with students on a case-by-case basis.

While it is possible to gamble in a healthy manner, Wanner said it is important to take precautions. She recommends setting time and money limits, as well as bringing a friend along to stay in check. Gambling is considered a social activity, so when students start gambling on their own or with people they don’t know, it’s a warning sign of addiction, she said.

Students said despite the risk of addiction, responsible gambling does exist at NU.

“Whatever I’m doing, I like to have at least one person as my conscience so I don’t get ahead of myself,” the Communication freshman said.[email protected]