Wednesday, February 16, 2005

All bets are off

YU's student newspaper is running an important and honest article about the rise in gambling problems among the university's students, prompted by the increasing availability of gambling sites online and "the advent of, and exposure to, televised gaming courtesy of the World Series of Poker coverage, the Travel Channel's World Poker Tour, and Bravo's Celebrity Poker Showdown."
Until recently, one of the bodegas near Yeshiva's campus was a haven for gamblers and sports fanatics, an illegal operation running in the back that took in thousands of dollars of bets each Sunday during the football season. Many students and sports enthusiasts posed as grocery shoppers in order to get their prized money line, designed to resemble an ordinary receipt, announcing the day's match-ups and lines. When the business shut down over the summer - rumors of a police bust were never verified - some aficionados opened up online accounts. With internet accessibility, students can now manage their online betting accounts from their dorm rooms and free of public scrutiny.
Nevertheless, the overall attractiveness of poker on television has in part carried the message that this is a game, and a lifestyle, that is not merely tolerated, but largely supported. Vast viewing of WSOP episodes on the Yeshiva dorm network has sparked interest in students, many of whom never knew how to play prior to the televised explanation and walk-through. And it has surfaced beyond cyberspace. Just listen closely during lunch hour in the school cafeteria, and you can overhear impassioned discussion related to poker technique and methodology. Even a student who doesn't play for money, instead settling for a free account that many websites provide, has the power to amaze attentive crowds with his own tales of fortune.
The article doesn't say how many YU students are actually addicted to gambling (or how many are exaggerating their 'tales of fortune'), but Yeshiva is planning to open a counseling center on campus in the spring. What's important to note here is that this is not a problem unique in any way to YU, but a much wider problem in the general and Jewish community which usually gets little attention because it is not perceived as a true addiction or truly dangerous (although people lose their homes and the shirts off their backs due to such problems), particularly in comparison to drug and alcohol addictions. Good for YU for taking it seriously.

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