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      Online gambling addiction leads to ruin for many

      The suicide note written by the head of the South Carolina Hospitality Association was published in The State newspaperTuesday.

      In that letter, Tom Sponseller said the agency's accountant stole nearly half a million dollars to feed her online gambling habit.

      According to one online addiction website, the total revenue from online gambling topped $29 billion last year.

      The director of Shoreline Behavioral Services, an addiction counseling agency in Conway, says online games can be particularly dangerous for people who have a gambling problem.

      Since so many people have computers and high speed Internet connections at home, Shoreline executive director John Coffin sa id online gambling allows people to get hooked in a hurry.

      "Gambling is an impulse control problem, which means that you go very quick from the impulse to the act," Coffin said.

      Coffin said gamblers can end up losing more money online than at an actual casino. To gamble in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, you have to make travel arrangements and leave your home, giving you more chances to stop before you go too far, he said. Not so with online gambling.

      "All you do is give them your credit card number and you can keep gambling until the limit's up on that credit card, and then you can gamble on another one and another one," Coffin said, "so you can rack up debt very, very quickly on online gambling."

      Gambling websites may claim their players win big money, but Coffin said people with a gambling problem never really win in the long run. Every small win spurs them on to try to win more and when they lose, they keep playing to try to win back what they lost.

      And since online gambling is illegal in the U.S., who will you complain to, if the gambling sites don't pay you, on those rare occasions when you win?

      "The people who are involved in this stuff, you have no idea who they are," Coffin said. "At least in this country, the casinos have to play by fairly strict rules. There are no rules to this (online gambling) and you can easily be swindled."

      If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, Coffin said there is treatment available similar to that for alcohol or drug addiction. There's a 12 step program and Gambler's Anonymous groups.