Joy Lavalle gets online, and she stays online. There are bills to pay and groceries to buy, but shes not surfing to carry out those tasks.
Instead, shes playing games — sometimes, for six or seven hours at a time.
The 37-year-old homemaker, who lives in Spring Grove, Pa., has been an avid player on Bingo.com for more than a year. Once, she was even named "Player of the Week" by the site. Because shes at home most of the day, Lavalle says she logs on in the morning and goes back and forth between playing on the site and completing her day-to-day tasks. "Sometimes during the day I know I really should be out doing errands, and I tend to put them off until tonight or in the morning. Eeks, bad habit," she says. "My husband has mentioned a couple times that I spend quite a bit of time online."
On Bingo.com, players can choose to play bingo, poker or other games. They compete for Bingo Bucks, which are credits players use to enter contests for cash and prizes. Lavalle, who fits the white, middle-aged female profile of the typical online game player, says that she has won as much as 200 Bingo Bucks, which she usually gives her to kids.
After playing numerous other online bingo games, Lavalle found Bingo.com when it launched in December 1999. Shes been a loyal user ever since. "All the games they have are pretty addicting," she says.
The addictive nature of the games worries Kevin ONeill, deputy director at the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey. He says that even though sites like Bingo.com are free, the correlation between them and online casinos is real. Compulsive gamblers fall into two broad categories, ONeill says: Men are usually "competition" gamblers, playing games like blackjack, poker, roulette or craps, whereas women tend to be "escape" gamblers who gravitate toward luck games like bingo and slot machines.
"You have an escape tool — the Internet — for escape gamblers," he says. And the instant a site starts charging to play bingo, the debts that accumulate could be overwhelming. ONeill is trying to convince sites like Bingo.com to add a link to 800Gambler.org, a gambling addiction site run by his organization.
Lavalle says shed be broke if Bingo.com began charging as little as a quarter per game. "Itd be really hard to stay away." she says.