Pine Nuts: Gambling addiction is only a click away |

Pine Nuts: Gambling addiction is only a click away

I had my fortune told the other day. She told me I was going to die in a foreign land … New Jersey. And guess what? New Jersey, not Nevada, is leading the way in online gambling.

Jersey allows more games than we do and has a younger web-dependent population than we do. Still, Nevada online poker sites raked in $124 million last year, and some scientists are afraid that Internet gambling is putting gambling addiction a mere mouse click away.

As Mark Twain told us, “A dollar picked up in the road is more satisfaction to us than the ninety-and-nine which we had to work for, and money won at faro or in the stock market snuggles into our hearts in the same way.”

With Hawaii and Utah still above the fray, every other state in the country offers some form of legalized gambling today. It’s estimated that two million Americans are addicted to gambling, and as many as 20 million more are compulsive. Try to imagine how these alarming numbers might grow as online gaming expands and becomes more readily available.

A recent article in Scientific American points out that gambling and drug addiction are far more similar than previously thought. Our brains actually change as addiction develops. Right smack dab in the middle of our cranium is a series of reward system circuits that link with memory, movement, pleasure and motivation.

Apparently neurons in the reward system squirt out a chemical messenger called dopamine, giving us a little wave of satisfaction and encouraging us to make a habit of enjoying hitting eight the hard way. And when stimulated by amphetamine or cocaine, our reward system disperses up to 10 times more dopamine than usual. “ZABADABADOO! One for the boys! (A bet for the dealers).”

A brain awash in dopamine eventually adapts by producing less of the molecule and becoming less responsive to its effects. So naturally, addicts build up a tolerance and need riskier bets to get high. As this tolerance intensifies, neural pathways connecting the reward circuit to the prefrontal cortex weaken, and what you get is, “Honey, I think the Cubs can win the Series this year.”

Elder citizens tend to criticize the young for wanting something for nothing. Then they climb on a bus out of Paradise, Calif., and head for the nearest casino, hoping to get something for nothing, at least a free drink and, who knows, perhaps an all-you-can-eat buffet.

There are priceless moments in a casino that you could never find at an online gambling site. Take for instance the night a beautiful woman placed her bet just as the dice were being thrown. The croupier, with the hint of a wry smile, shouted out, “The dice wait for no man…and very few women.” And he allowed her late bet to win. Pit bosses hate these guys. Casino owners love them.

Will online gambling destroy casinos? No. Not anymore than the Internet will destroy libraries. As libraries become more proactive and offer more educational programs and entertainment, casinos will follow their lead and make casinos more fun and a safer place to bet.

As of this writing, Spurs to repeat is the best bet on the big board.

To learn more about McAvoy Layne visit

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