Students give in to gambling temptation

By Kylee Dawson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Some students gamble for the thrill. Others gamble for the money. Karl Hellman, an undeclared freshman, gambles out of boredom.

Hellman, 25, began gambling in Tucson three years ago and said gambling can be addictive, but he is not a compulsive gambler.

Hellman, like many UA students, has experienced the repercussions gambling can bring. But for some, just quitting is harder than it sounds.

People ages 18 to 24 make up 5.2 percent of gamblers in Arizona, according to a study conducted by the Arizona Office of Problem Gambling.

The study, conducted September 2003 to June 2004, also showed that 10.5 percent of gamblers in Arizona said gambling became a problem for them between the ages of 18 and 24.

Matt Schwimmer, a junior studying English, said he is one of the gamblers who has a problem.

Schwimmer, 22, said he began playing blackjack with his cousins when he was 12 or 13 and now plays poker on a regular basis with his friends and other UA students.

"Gambling is just very addicting; it's very compulsive, it's almost degenerate," Schwimmer said. "I think if you do obsess, it's a problem."

In addition to playing poker games at friends' homes, Schwimmer also plays online poker tournaments through Web sites such as and

Since he downloaded a poker game onto his computer's desktop, Schwimmer said he plays almost every day.

"I prefer playing online because I don't have to face my opponent, and I don't want to face my opponent," he said. "When you play somebody face-to-face versus online, it's totally different."

As an alternative to gambling for money, Wilbur's Underground, in the Student Union Memorial Center, holds several weekly tournaments for poker, pool and table tennis, said Simran Nirh, manager of the Games Room. Students can win gift certificates if they advance to a "Champion of Champions" tournament.

Since opening in spring 2003, all Games Room tournaments are open to students, faculty and staff, but Nirh said mostly participants are students, and they tend to favor pool and poker the most.

Taylor Gunn, a creative writing junior, prefers playing poker against high rollers at casinos instead of students in Wilbur's Underground. Gunn, 21, said he has been to the Casino del Sol half a dozen times since he began gambling there in September.

"That's where you can make the best money," Gunn said. "If you want to play the best players, you go to the Desert Diamond Casino."

Casino slot machines are the game of choice for 64.9 percent of all gamblers, according to the Arizona Office of Problem Gambling study. Card games come in second at 8.8 percent.

People between the ages of 21 and 30 make up 10 percent of participants in weekend poker tournaments at Casino del Sol, said Samuel Arellano, director of guest development at the casino.

Though there is no way to know exactly how many of the young gamblers are UA students, Arellano said he knows some are college students because participants must show ID to sign up for the tournaments, and many sign up with CatCards.

Gunn has gone to the Desert Diamond Casino more than a dozen times where he plays electronic blackjack.

Gunn said the first time he gambled he was 11. He said a friend bet him $20 on a Red Sox game. Gunn lost, but it didn't stop him from placing off-track bets on major league baseball, basketball and football games through a friend.

Though he no longer bets on sports, Gunn's game of choice is poker, Omaha and Texas Hold'em styles.

"I've never lost more money than I've won," he said. "When it comes to poker, I don't have to be (modest)."

Gunn said he is not a compulsive gambler and wins 80 percent of the time.

"I don't like being addicted to anything," he said. "I have stopped for years at a time and I never gamble with money I don't have."

Gunn occasionally goes to casinos with his friends, but chooses not to play against them.

"I try not to sit down with them 'cause I don't want their money," he said.

While Gunn doesn't gamble with his friends, Schwimmer said he uses his friends to deter him from his gambling habit.

Since downloading a poker game on his own computer, he said he uses his friends' computers to do his homework to avoid the temptation of gambling, which he's dealt with since childhood.

Schwimmer said when he was 8 or 9, his father promised to take him to Las Vegas to gamble for his 21st birthday.

Last year, when his father came through on his promise, Schwimmer took $800 on his trip. At one point, he was up by $1,000, but only ended up leaving with $300 at the end of the trip.

"A really compulsive gambler doesn't know when to quit," he said. "I was happy to walk away with something."

Schwimmer said there is no thrill in playing the lottery since no skill is required and there is less of a chance of winning.

"If I just won the lottery, I'd quit (gambling)," he said. "I'd just spread the wealth like butter."

Hellmann said he prefers betting on college and professional sports because no skill is involved, unlike poker.

Hellmann said he has placed bets with a non-student bookie, but he's taking a break from betting since he lost $700 on the World Series this year.

"I think I had an addiction problem, like, a year ago, but after losing over $1,000, it kind of woke me up and I realized I shouldn't gamble with money I don't have," Hellmann said.

Debra Cox-Howard, mental health clinician at Campus Health, said gambling addiction is the second-most common addiction problem in the United States, but she has not treated any students for gambling addiction for about two years.

Cox-Howard said the Arizona Legislature's 2003 decision to change the legal gambling age from 18 to 21 has probably helped reduce the number of student gamblers.