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Growing Up on a Steady Diet of Poker

One of the most common ways for young players, those under the legal age for gambling, to get a taste for poker is by gambling on the plethora of free, gambling-for-fun sites. Many of the biggest online companies run these sites side-by-side with their "for money" sites. Critics, however, say the fun sites act as a kind of gamblers' nursery school, teaching young novices the rules of the game, while often whetting the appetite by bombarding them with pop-ups urging them to play for hard cash.

Richard Segal of Party Gaming stresses that they do everything they can to stop underage gamblers from logging on to the real money sites.

"We are very, very clear that we do not want people unless they are of suitable age to play on our sites," says Segal, "and we take, as an organization, responsible gaming very, very seriously. When it comes to depositing money, as an individual, you need to give us information about yourself, about your age, and in terms of making payments, about the form of payment that you're going to make. I would like to believe that as a responsible operator, that we pick up the vast majority of underage players. You know it would be foolish of me to say it is 100 percent fool-proof, but we try and be as good as we possibly can."

We decided to see for ourselves what actually happens when you register at Partypoker.com. There certainly didn't appear to be too many visible security systems in place to us. As far as we could see, all you need is access to an adult's credit card details with the correct billing address and be prepared to enter a false date of birth, and you're good to go.

That's not the case in some other countries. In the United Kingdom, for example, those registering on Party Poker's site today are also asked to supply a passport or driver's license number. That data is then cross-referenced with the credit card details supplied.

But here in America, home to over half of the world's online gamblers, the adolescents we spoke to described gaining access to several of the major poker sites as "easy."

A 17-year-old we'll call Paul was one such teen gambler.

"I started playing cards with my friends about two years ago. It was a lot of fun. And I eventually moved up to playing online," Paul recalls. "I played poker mostly, on a number of sites including Party Poker and Paradise Poker. I found that was fun too. So I began betting money there. I had no difficulty whatsoever in playing for money online with cards. You know, I used friends' credit cards and other methods - bank accounts, debit cards, credit cards - and overall I probably lost $5-6,000 this way."

Despite the fact that he was 16 years old and losing thousands of dollars, Paul says that neither he, nor any of the owners of the credit cards he was using, were ever questioned about his age.

"There was no real age verification and there was no proof of anything needed. Basically anyone at all can play poker online. I would just play for hours at a time online and I was betting too much and I really was not in control of my gambling and it became a problem, and I'm now in Gamblers Anonymous here in New Jersey."

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