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Credit cards and gambling: The Web as both the problem and the solution

Daniel Ray

Should you be allowed to sit in your skivvies and gamble away your time via online poker? And go into credit card debt if you lose?

We have written extensively about the issue of online gambling, since the most popular way to pay for that habit has been credit cards.

A 2006 federal law, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, placed the onus on credit card issuers to make sure their cards weren’t being used for online gambling.

Now, in a twist, California Attorney General (and gubernatorial candidate) Jerry Brown has announced that his office will start using the Web to prevent problem gamblers from going into cardrooms. Instead of being part of the problem, his office is trying to make the Web part of the solution to problem gambling.

Since 2007, the state has had a paper-based system in which people who know they have a gambling problem can banish themselves from the state’s cardrooms.

A little more than 1,000 people have joined the “Self-Exclusion Program,” filling out a paper and providing a photo to the state.


It goes into a database that is distributed to the cardrooms. If you’re on the list and found in a cardroom, you’re escorted out, and your winnings confiscated and turned over to the state’s Council on Problem Gambling.

Last week, Brown’s office announced that the program has been expanded to include an online self-exclusion form.

A problem gambler can choose to banish himself or herself for one year, five years or for life.

“This system serves as a safety net for gambling addicts fighting to end their spiral of debt and addiction,” Brown said in a press release. “These are people who have chosen to help themselves, and we’ll assist them in keeping their pledges not to gamble.”

The state’s Council on Problem Gambling analyzed the 5,009 calls it received on its gambling crisis hotline, and it revealed the intimate relation between credit card debt and problem gambling:

  •  78.5 percent of callers were gamblers, 7.5 percent were their spouses and 14 percent were others including family members, therapists or employers.
  •  The callers’ average personal debt was $29, 972.
  •  The average amount of money the callers spent gambling was $28,647.
  •  53 percent of the callers said they financed their gambling with credit cards.
  •  38 percent said their credit cards were maxed out.

For most, gambling is a harmless source of fun, a game of chance and skill. But for a minority, they need some help controlling their impulses, and this looks to me like a step in the right direction.


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