- Bonus HunterConfessions of an Online Gambler
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To say I was addicted to gambling would not be accurate. I was never addicted to gambling. I was merely addicted to the money I made from gambling. For almost six years I earned my living as an online gambler. I gambled at casinos and sport books, many of which eventually blacklisted me. I played over a million hands of blackjack, my game of choice, and when I was banned from blackjack, I played video poker, roulette and baccarat. I wrote “gambler” as my profession when I filed taxes. On a good month I made $12,000; on a bad month $6,000.
At the time, the money seemed important because I was a graduate student and therefore poor, but money is never the real story. The real story is always more complex than the simple [End Page 113] accumulation of wealth. In my case, the real story is how money changed me, how it made me understand the dark underside of the American dream.
In 1999 I was a fourth-year PhD student at Florida State University. My field was English, with an emphasis in creative writing. I managed our university’s visiting writers series. I coedited our literary journal, which was then called Sundog: The Southeast Review. I taught one undergraduate course each term. I read voraciously. In terms of professional development, I had published twenty short stories and had recently sold my first novel to a publisher in England. But despite a $7,000 publishing advance, I was still living check to-check. I was carrying $14,000 in credit-card debt, all of it acquired while I’d been in school. And my $900 monthly teaching stipend covered little more than rent and basic living expenses.
To acquire books, I scouted the Internet for coupons. Back in the early days of e-commerce, startup online “e-tailers,” such as Amazon and Buy.com, sent out weekly coupons to entice customers to browse the wares on their virtual shelves. These coupons offered customers $10 off a $10 purchase and sometimes $20 off a $20 purchase. This meant I could buy two or three books each week, paying little more than the cost of shipping. I found the coupons posted on various web discussion boards, but the coupon discussion board at Fat Wallet was by far the most helpful resource on the web.
Then one day, next to the coupons, I saw a thread for an online casino, mixed in with the usual Amazon coupons: this works! $500 free with $500 deposit!
Out of curiosity, I clicked on the thread, believing it to be a scam, only to find that two or three well-known discussion board members were claiming to have won and been paid by this online casino. My reaction was one of skepticism: only morons would try such a scheme.
But in actuality, these ludicrous-sounding offers weren’t a scam. At least, most of them weren’t. They were a desperate attempt by overseas casinos to establish an online customer base in the United States. To accomplish this, these operations faced a large problem: How does a business based in Costa Rica, Grenada or the Isle of Man persuade wealthy Americans to enter their credit-card numbers into an unregulated online casino? Their solution: offer each new player hundreds of dollars in bonus money simply to establish an online gambling account at their casino.
For the next six months, I passively watched as regular board members posted messages on Fat Wallet saying that they had made money by playing [End Page 114] at online casinos. The early deals were ridiculously easy: deposit $500, receive a $500 bonus, gamble it all once and make a withdrawal. No skill whatsoever was required to make a profit using roulette. Simply throw $480 on black, $480 on red, the rest on zero (assuming the casino used a single-zero roulette wheel). With this strategy, every player was guaranteed a minimum profit of $460. If the wheel struck zero, you won a little extra...