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College men in danger of 'full tilt'

1.6 million college students gamble online - some in class - frittering away tuition, spending money, and even leading some to bank robbery.

The popularity of Internet gambling has exploded in recent years, luring many college students to fritter away their tuition and more, striving to stay in the game. For incoming freshman, online poker is as common as beer, and some students even play Texas Hold 'Em, the most popular game, while attending lectures, The New York Times reports.

Despite the fact that researchers and players say that Internet poker is addictive, and the federal government says that it's illegal, colleges have done little to stop its spread on campus. Online casinos advertise heavily to college students. Some schools have even sponsored live cash tournaments; the sites partner with fraternities and sports teams in order to convert the casual poker player to be a steady online gambler. With most dorm rooms equipped with high speed wireless, any student with a credit card is a live mark for the gambling sites.

How addictive? The Times leads with the story of 19-year-old Greg Hogan Jr. This is a jaw-dropper.

For months now, Hogan, a 19-year-old Lehigh University sophomore, had been on tilt, and he would remain on tilt for weeks to come. Alone at the computer, usually near the end of one of his long online gambling sessions, the thought "I'm on tilt" would occur to him. Dude, he'd tell himself, you gotta stop. These thoughts sounded the way a distant fire alarm sounds in the middle of a warm bath. He would ignore them and go back to playing poker. "The side of me that said, 'Just one more hand,' was the side that always won," he told me months later. "I couldn't get away from it, not until all my money was gone." In a little more than a year, he had lost $7,500 playing poker online.

"Tilt" is the poker term for a spell of insanity that often follows a run of bad luck. The tilter goes berserk, blindly betting away whatever capital he has left in an attempt to recoup his losses. Severe tilt can spill over past the poker table, resulting in reputations, careers and marriages being tossed away like so many chips. This is the kind of tilt Hogan had, tilt so indiscriminate that one Friday afternoon this past December, while on his way to see "The Chronicles of Narnia" with two of his closest friends, he cast aside the Greg Hogan everyone knew — class president, chaplain's assistant, son of a Baptist minister — and became Greg Hogan, the bank robber.

On Dec. 9, 2005, Hogan went to see "Narnia" with Kip Wallen, Lehigh's student-senate president, and Matt Montgomery, Hogan's best friend, in Wallen's black Ford Explorer. Hogan, who was sitting in front, asked Wallen to find a bank so he could cash a check, and Wallen pulled over at a small, oatmeal-colored Wachovia. Inside, Hogan paused at the counter for a moment and then joined the line. He handed the teller a note that said he had a gun, which was a bluff. "Are you kidding?" her face seemed to say. He did his best to look as if he weren't. With agonizing slowness, she began assembling the money. Moments later, a thin sheaf of bills appeared in the tray: $2,871. Hogan stuffed it into his backpack, turned around and walked back out to the car.

The House of Representatives is due to vote soon on proposals to ban online gambling. It is against federal law for U.S. casinos to use phone lines to place bets, however, most of the Internet gambling sites are run offshore from Central America and the Caribbean.

An estimated 1.6 million of 17 million U.S. college students gambled online last year, mostly on poker.

"The kids really think they can log on and become the next world champion," says Jeffrey Derevensky, who studies youth problem gambling at McGill University in Montreal. "This is an enormous social experiment. We don't really know what's going to happen.