June's addiction began soon after her husband died of lung cancer on Christmas Eve in 1997. June was a new widow, disabled, homebound. Her four children were on their own and had moved away. She turned to her computer and the Internet to find solace. Instead, she found keno.

As June played the online games from her New Jersey apartment, offshore gambling sites became her new suitors. She won $10,000 four times. The companies sent her gifts, ranging from a wristwatch to bouquets of flowers.

Then the tide began to turn. Losses piled up fast. She went through her husband's $57,000 insurance settlement for on-the-job exposure to asbestos. She cashed in certificates of deposit. The woman, now 73, ignored her friends when they visited her. She remained in her chair to place wagers and sometimes stayed up all night.

"I knew in the back of my mind that I wasn't supposed to be doing this because I'm a Christian," said June, who even spent the money set aside for her burial. "But I couldn't help myself."

By the time she stopped gambling 18 months ago, June had lost $110,000. "I really am ashamed," said June, who asked that her last name not be used because of confidentiality that recovering gamblers require of each other. "I always paid my bills on time."

June credits Ed Looney, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, with saving her from financial ruin. Shut-ins who spend hours at a computer are particularly vulnerable, Looney said, adding, "It's an incredible market for those who hunger for relationships."

High stakes, high growth

The Internet gambling industry started only eight years ago. There are now more than 1,800 gambling websites, frequently based in small island nations, according to Looney. The ...

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