By Dolores Kong
The Boston Globe

With the Internet making gambling in everything from
Las Vegas- style games to the stock market more
accessible, agencies combating problem gambling are
going online to fight back.

An estimated 5.5 percent of the US adult population
will experience compulsive or problem gambling at some
point in their lives, according to officials from
various gaming councils. And average gambling debts
can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars, they

That makes problem gambling one of the most extreme
examples of personal finance out of control. Overall,
Americans spend an estimated $600 billion a year

With up to 700 Internet gambling sites, the situation
can only get worse for those at risk, say worried

"You can now gamble from your home or office any time
of day or night," said Dana Forman, associate program
director for the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive
Gambling. "It's going to be so easy to destroy
yourself. It's like an alcoholic living in a barroom."

And with technology allowing instantaneous stock
market trades, officials also worry about gambling in
the financial markets.

"Day trading on the Internet is exactly like, or much
akin to, gambling," said Forman. "The idea that
someone can make sudden riches in minutes - it's the
same kind of idea that a problem gambler might have."

To counter the increasing availability of
opportunities to gamble, whether online or offline,
groups combating problem gambling have set up Internet
sites to help problem and compulsive gamblers and
their families. (Problem gamblers are defined as
experiencing one or two negative consequences as a
result of gambling, while compulsive gamblers
experience several, often severe, consequences.)
Some sites feature self-scoring tests to diagnose
gambling problems, whether those experienced by
teenagers betting on sports games, adults wagering on
Las Vegas-style games, or Internet users day trading
in the stock market.

Other sites provide referrals to treatment centers,
support groups, and certified gambling counselors, and
access to other resources. And one site geared to
problem gamblers trying to resist temptation allows
visitors to print out a form that will have their
credit or debit cards automatically rejected by casino
cash machines.

But there's one resource you probably won't see listed
on sites providing help to problem gamblers: low-cost
credit counseling services that consolidate debt and
negotiate better payment terms. That's because one of
the Gamblers Anonymous principles of recovery for
compulsive or problem gamblers is to refuse any form
of debt renegotiation or forgiveness, said Marvin
Steinberg, executive director of the Connecticut
Council on Gambling Problems.

"Gamblers Anonymous feels that can function as a
bailout for the gambler," said Steinberg.

Forman agreed: "You cannot cure a gambling problem by
curing the debt. You must work on the gambling first."

Here are some relevant Web sites:

- www.masscompulsivegambling .org: This site by the
state-funded Massachusetts Council on Compulsive
Gambling lists outpatient treatment programs at which
free and low-cost treatment is available, and
Massachusetts and New Hampshire therapists certified
in gambling treatment. It provides Spanish versions of
some materials. Visitors can register online for a
March 30-31 and April 6-7 course on "Understanding,
Assessing, and Treating Compulsive Gambling" or an
April 14 session on adolescent and college-age
gambling called "March Madness: April Sadness."

- Run by the Council on Compulsive
Gambling of New Jersey, this site allows you to sign
up for a monthly e-mail update, participate in online
polls on compulsive gambling or online trading, and
read newsletters about senior citizens and gambling.
The organization's 1999 statistics from its 24-hour
help line are scheduled to be posted by April 1. 1998
statistics showed help-line callers had average
gambling debts of $38,030, when their average annual
income was only $36,134.

- The Connecticut Council on Problem
Gambling offers a self-scoring quiz on investing and
gambling problems, developed at the request of the US
Securities and Exchange Commission. The site, which
will soon be upgraded to offer more features, makes
available an online prevention newsletter and other

- A self-test designed for
teenagers worried about gambling problems and a list
of symptoms to watch for in teenagers and young adults
are among the features of this California Council on
Problem Gambling site.

- This site by the National
Council on Problem Gambling provides links to state
affiliates and Gamblers Anonymous.

- This site offers 20
questions to diagnose gambling problems and a list of
local Gamblers Anonymous support group meetings by
state and meeting time, and contact information for
family members of gamblers and other resources.

- The
company that provides cash machines in more than 1,200
US gaming establishments offers on its site a form for
problem gamblers to fill out to voluntarily have their
credit or debit cards rejected at casino cash
machines. The form is part of STEP, or
Self-Transaction Exclusion Program, the latest aspect
of Global Cash Access's "Responsible Gaming"
initiative developed in cooperation with the National
Council on Problem Gambling. There is also an online
form to reactivate casino cash machine access, but
only after a one-year waiting period.

- You can participate online in a
Louisiana State University survey of gambling by
adults at this site run by the North American Training
Institute, a division of the Minnesota Council on
Compulsive Gambling. Participants receive a free
packet of informational material on gambling.