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How can colleges deal with online poker?: Lehigh U. case draws spotlight on exploding national issue.
[July 05, 2006]

How can colleges deal with online poker?: Lehigh U. case draws spotlight on exploding national issue.

(Morning Call, The (Allentown, PA) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Jul. 5--Greg Hogan Sr. was desperate. He'd known for months that his son was gambling online in his Lehigh University dorm, so the Baptist minister took a drastic step.

He drove nearly 400 miles from his Hudson, Ohio, home to install a program to block his son's dorm computer from accessing online poker sites.

Yet the bank overdrafts kept coming, and it was clear Greg Hogan Jr. had found a way around his father. The Lehigh sophomore was gambling on the campus library computers, and he says he wasn't the only one, said his attorney, John Waldron.

Within weeks, Hogan Jr. lost the last of his more than $5,000, but was so intent on playing more that in December he walked into a Wachovia Bank in Allentown, handed the teller a note stating he had a gun, and walked out with $2,871, according to his attorney.

Waldron said that next Wednesday, the now 20-year-old suspended Lehigh sophomore class president will plead guilty to robbing the bank and will probably go to jail.

His case raises questions about what responsibility universities have to prevent their students from becoming ensnared in what experts say is becoming an epidemic: online gambling on college campuses.

Greg Hogan Sr. said he asked the university to block the library computers from accessing online gambling sites, but was told nothing could be done.

University officials say they have no record of the request.

"Yes, he was gambling on library computers and yes, his father made a request that the university block the computers," Waldron said. "But understand, Greg isn't blaming the school for his problems. He knows that any games he was involved in were his responsibility."

And that's the only way Hogan Jr. will conquer his gambling addiction, according to Rina Gupta, director of the International Centre for Youth Gambling at McGill University in Montreal.

While Gupta believes Lehigh should provide services to help its students deal with their problems, she doesn't recommend that they install restrictions that affect all students just to protect those who have a problem. Besides, it wouldn't work, she said.

"External controls don't work," Gupta said. "College students are very resourceful and the Internet is too accessible. If they blocked the library computers, an addicted gambler will only find another computer. The only way to fix the problem is for the kid to decide he wants to stop."

Joanne Anderson, Lehigh's assistant director of communications, said the university does not monitor personal computer use and has not blocked access to gambling sites on any of its campus computers.

In response to Hogan's arrest, Lehigh has created a Web site that tells students the dangers of gambling, how to spot the warning signs of an addicted gambler and where to get counseling help.

"We don't have evidence of gambling problems on campus, but we recognize that student gambling is on the rise nationally," Anderson said.

She said the university's approach is to minimize such behavior.

"Our mission and principal goal is to educate students. We want them to make good decisions," she said.

There is mounting evidence that it is a problem universities across the nation will have to address. Gupta said the International Centre for Youth Gambling's research shows that 3 percent to 6 percent of youths are pathological gamblers, and a study by the University of Connecticut Health Center appears to back that up.

The center interviewed 880 college student this year and found that about 40 met the definition of being pathological gamblers -- a rate of 4.5 percent.

Researchers say the problem is so new, and evolving so quickly, there is little detailed scientific data to prove it, but the studies that have been done reveal an alarming trend, said Betsy Parker, a researcher with the University of Connecticut.

"Most of what we have is anecdotal, but it's scary," Parker said. "We have cases of students gambling on their laptops in class."

In addition, a survey by the American Gaming Association shows the meteoric rise of Internet gambling. What was a $3 billion a year business in 2001 had revenues of $12 billion last year, and that is projected to increase to nearly $25 billion by 2010.

And unlike casino gambling, where the patrons are predominantly people older than 60, online gamblers are predominantly males in their 20s, according to the American Gaming Association. Gupta attributes that to the rise in poker, and how television has transformed the way it is perceived.

"Kids used to think poker was high-risk gambling that was potentially harmful. Now they think it is sport," Gupta said. "If we're not careful about how we handle this, it's going to explode."

As for Hogan, he hasn't placed a bet since he was arrested as he was preparing to begin cello rehearsal for the Lehigh University Philharmonic, Waldron said. He's going to counseling and Gamblers Anonymous meetings. In recent months he's been shuttling between his parents' home in Ohio and a relative's home in Bucks County, where he's working part time at a funeral home, Waldron said.

He's been suspended from Lehigh, but hopes to one day return to college elsewhere.

The question is, how long will he have to wait to do that?

Hogan will plead guilty to robbery in exchange for lesser charges being dropped. He will probably face jail time, but Waldron hopes that because Hogan had no gun and harmed no one, the sentence will be kept short.

"There is a lot more good to be served with him out of jail, where he can help prevent others from reaching the desperate straits that he reached," Waldron said "He's a good kid who's got a lot going for him. He can be a productive member of society."

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