Latest net problem for students: online gambling

College students are playing online poker in record numbers, trying to win college tuition or spending money. Some may be frittering away college tuition.

Indianapolis Star reporter Staci Hupp reports on a worrisome new Internet trend - college students are gambling online, sometimes in an attempt to get help with tuition. Last week was AbsolutePoker.com's big poker tournament, and Butler U. freshman Robb Barbauld was up late, trying to win some money. The tournament's grand prize was a semester's tuition.

"I'm going to come out of college in debt," said Barbauld, a Merrillville native who figures his expenses at the Indianapolis private school add up to $32,000 a year. "Free tuition would be really nice."

Gambling has always been popular with high school and college kids. An Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis survey in 2004 found that more than half of students ages 12 to 20 said they had gambled for money. And a nationwide survey of high school and college students last year by the University of Pennsylvania reported a 20 percent jump from 2004 in students who play cards for money.

But like everthing, online gambling raises the stakes.

Absolutepoker.com, a Costa Rican gambling Web site, makes no secret of its marketing to college students. The free "Win Your Tuition" tournament is subsidized by regular online games in which players wager money. Absolutepoker.com estimates that 15,000 students tried to win a seat in the final round of the tuition tournament. That's nearly double the number who tried for the last tournament, in November.

Laws don't protect bettors because enforcement targets operations not players, says a law professor who studies gambling. And colleges can do little about it, if students aren't breaking the law. Irritated professors, however, often ban laptops from class because so many students are playing cards during lectures.

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