The hidden addiction: Internet gambling

Experts say compulsive gambling is starting as early as college-age

It’s called the hidden addiction—gambling.
Gamblers don't have to go far to place a bet. Whether it’s on a laptop, at an Internet cafe or casino, access and availability to gamble is at your fingertips.

[WEB EXTRA: Video | Scroll below for warning signs ]

Because of that easy access, News 6 investigator Eryka Washington has uncovered addiction is happening among even younger people-- and could be happening to your child right under your nose.

"I lost my marriage, I lost my job, I lost my car, I didn't have a place to live,” said Alan Abrams.

Abrams said he was a compulsive gambler for most of his life.

"I needed to have action all the time and had a hard time focusing on, I guess, just normal life,” said Abrams. “Gambling turned to be more important to me than anything else."

Abrams’ games of choice-- blackjack and sports betting.

According to experts, betting on sports typically starts in college.

"I know people who do it all the time,” said University of Central Florida student Colin Wolmack. “They might be with a friend and say, ‘Hey, you want to bet on this game? Who do you think is going to win?’ Yeah, all the time.”

"They definitely like to bet on the football game a little bit,” said student Tiffany Collier.

Jennifer Kruse is deputy director of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling.

"With the college population, you've got kids who are at a time in their lives who are all of the sudden becoming an adult and they have access to credit they never had before,” said Kruse. “They've got independence and freedom and they're exploring things.”

In fact, according to a 2008 study from The Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, one in five college students is at risk or already has developed a problem with gambling.

With the increase of online options for gambling with sites like DraftKings, Full Tilt Poker and Bovada, Kruse said problem gambling is only going to get worse.

"44 percent of callers stated they started gambling before the age of 25,” said Kruse.

"I see a lot of my friends making money on draft kings and FanDuel,” said Wolmack. “I see them making $300 on a regular basis sometimes more than that.”

"The money is there if you pick the right team,” said UCF graduate student Nick Johansen.  “Then, you can win a lot of money, so I can see why people like to do it.”

The big problem is-- Kruse said there aren't any telltale signs.

"You can't look at someone and say, ‘Oh, they have dice eyes’ or ‘They have roulette breath or card marks on their arms.’ There's no signs.  It can go from many many months many years undetected,” said Kruse.

"I was able to hide it from a lot of people. It’s like living two lives. For me, it certainly was a Jekyll and Hyde lifestyle,” said Abrams.

Abrams said he hit rock bottom and finally got help—he is one of the lucky ones. One in five compulsive gamblers will attempt suicide.

"Compulsive gambling is never cured,” said Kruse. “Recovery is every day, one day at a time, for the rest of their lives.”

Problem Gambling Warning Signs
• Thinks constantly about gambling
• Increases bets to sustain thrill
• Exhibits agitation when cutting back
• Gambles as an escape
• Chases losses
• Lies to conceal activity
• Jeopardizes significant relationships
• Relies on financial bailout
• Fails in effort to control or stop gambling