Bonus Slots and Video Poker: How Much Is Too Much?


Among all the different games available online and in brick-and-mortar casinos, bonus slots and video poker are perhaps the most seductive. It’s almost impossible to walk away from a bonus slot until you’ve reached the bonus round at least once, and once you’ve reached it once…well, why not try for a second time, and a third? Video poker puts you firmly in control, or at least it offers that illusion. You’re dealt a hand of cards and get to choose the ones you want to keep. If you choose wisely and luck is with you, you’ll reach the Holy Grail of video poker, the much talked about but rarely seen Royal Flush.


Given these factors, it isn’t surprising that even the most careful and conservative gamblers sometimes get sucked in to playing longer than they had intended and spending more money than they had wanted to. An occasional splurge here and there is not a problem.


There is no set dollar amount when gambling becomes a problem. A millionaire might comfortably lose several hundred dollars a week without showing the slightest sign of addiction. A waitress who lost the same amount might be seriously addicted, as she would probably be gambling with rent and grocery money.


In the end, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling (www.ncpgambling.org ; 1-800-522-4700) it’s not what you lose but how you lose it that indicates whether your gambling may be becoming obsessive.


The first sign of a problem is a preoccupation with gambling. How often does gambling cross your mind? Do you spend all day at work counting the hours until you can get home and play video poker online? Have you ever snuck a game at work because you just couldn’t bear to wait until you got home? The more you think about gambling, the greater the likelihood that it is becoming a problem for you.


A second sign of trouble is the need to raise the stakes. Maybe a few weeks ago, you had fun on quarter bonus slots, but now you need to play dollar slots to feel the same rush. Your gambling frequency may increase as well. Perhaps when you started, you were content to play on the weekends, but now you spend most weeknights gambling online as well.


Have you ever tried to stop or cut back on gambling? If so, how did you feel? Was it no big deal? Or did you find yourself missing it and obsessing about it and snapping at everyone that came within half a mile of you? If so, you experienced the third sign that gambling may be a problem for you.


The fourth sign has to do with throwing good money after bad or, in casino parlance, “chasing losses.” Chasing losses happens when you’re on a losing streak but keep betting more and more to try to win your money back. There’s an old saying that a problem gambler won’t stop when he or she is winning and can’t stop when he or she is losing.


The fifth sign of problem gambling is a loss of control. Even though by now the debts may be mounting and your gambling may be causing trouble in your work or private life, you still can’t stop.


If you think you’re taking your gambling too far, there are several websites that can help you. The first, mentioned above, is the National Council on Problem Gambling. Another is Gamblers Anonymous (www.gamblersanonymous.com). An excellent site based in the UK is GamCar (www.gamcare.org.uk).


An addiction to gambling can be as tragic and hurtful as any other addiction. If you have stopped playing for fun and are playing because you “have to”, get help now. The first step is always the hardest, but you’ll be glad you found the courage to ask for help.


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