That lark turned darkIllustration by Joe Lee For many, the Internet is a place for research and recreation. At the mere touch of a mouse, a savvy user can find himself anywhere in the world, learning anything she wants. Or, games can be had, from fantasy football to solitaire.
However, for some, the Internet can be a diabolical predicament, as the games users find can be hazardous to their health. We refer, of course, to Internet gambling. No one knows when the first Internet gambling site came into existence. But others were soon to follow. Pretty soon, there were dozens, maybe even hundreds of Web sites where innocent people could look to score on the Net. One such e-gambler is local resident Ty Gnarlson. Gnarlson, an unemployed astrophysicist, began playing the Internet gambling games two years ago. "At first," Gnarlson recalls, "it was just a lark, you know, something I did once a week or so. Whenever the feeling struck me." But that lark turned dark, as Gnarlson began spending more time gambling via his computer. "Oh yeah," he remembers. "It got so I was on the Net every day trying to win win win. Some days, I did win; I"d go up hundreds of dollars even." Other days, though, weren"t so lucrative for the 36-year-old native of Logansport and graduate of Purdue University. There were sessions where he lost over $1,000. "My wife," Gnarlson recollects, "just about killed me when she found out what I was doing and how much I was in debt. Instead," Gnarlson adds after a pause, "she up and left me." And, as if losing a spouse and going thousands of dollars into debt wasn"t enough, Gnarlson began to be harassed by representatives of the gambling Web sites, demanding he pay up ... or else. "It"s just like any other gambling, black-market-type deal," Gnarlson explains. "If you were in, say, New Jersey, and you were gambling at the local casino and you went under, there"d be guys knocking on your door. Tough guys. Guys with dark suits. Guys who work out!" Internet gambling enforcers, however, don"t quite fit the Mafia don image. Gnarlson says he first received "rather polite" e-mails that asked him to "please, please pay my debt ... there was no "or else" to it or anything." Gnarlson ignored the first spate of e-mails. But then he received one that stated the following: "Dear Mr. Gnarlson: It has come to our attention that you have been unresponsive to our initial attempts at reconciling this, what must be for you untenable, guilt-producing situation. If you don"t tÍte-ý-tÍte with us via e-mail, we may be forced to meet with you in person in order to resolve the matter." Gnarlson was understandably troubled by that communication. "Oh yeah," he says, "it got me nervous, all right. I started having visions of the ... what I said earlier, the Mafia dons." It was his nervousness, Gnarlson claims, that kept him from confronting the situation. One day he was home and a knock came on the door. He recalls cowering in his bedroom, but the interlopers kept knocking and ringing his doorbell. Finally, "frightened out of my wits," Gnarlson went to the front door. There on the steps were two "geeks. You know, guys with thick glasses, mismatched pants and shirts, pocket protectors, bad bedhead, you know, the works. "They asked if they could talk to me," Gnarlson continues. "So I said what about. And they said you know what about. And I said what if I don"t know what about. And they said we think that if you say you don"t know what about you"re lying because you know darn well what what about is about." This went on for a good while, Gnarlson says, before he finally relented and invited the gentlemen into his modest, Westside dwelling. "They were nervous and biting their nails and their voices were cracking and everything. I offered them a drink and they both requested milk due to gastronomical whatevers." Once seated and drinking milk, the visitors confided in Gnarlson that they had been sent by a particular Web site that Gnarlson owed money to. They told Gnarlson that those who were bereft were confronted in this fashion. Gnarlson says that "they both smelled like old sweat, you know what I mean? Like they hadn"t washed themselves or their shirts for eons. They just sat there and fingered their pocket protectors and smoothed their impossible-to-tame colics and I had no idea what to do. So I got tough with them - nothing physical, but I told them if they didn"t leave there"d be some kind of hell to pay." After a few moments of protest, the two did leave. However, the next day, a total of five men returned to bang on Gnarlson"s door. Gnarlson says that the same scene was repeated, all over again: He ignores the knock, he finally answers, he invites them in, they drink milk, hem and haw and leave when Gnarlson threatens them. The day after that, though, Gnarlson answered his door to find "17 geeks. All of them looking like clones of each other. There wasn"t enough room in my house for them, and I ran out of milk, and the collective sweat smell will never leave my house." Motivated by what he assumed to be an ever-increasing visit from these Internet gambling enforcers, Gnarlson was forced to borrow money from a relative to retire his gambling debt. Once the debt was paid, the enforcers never returned. Gnarlson, chastened by the experience, has thrown his computer away. "Never again," he says, adamant. "Internet gambling could suck anybody in. And then once you"re in too deep you"re sunk. And then here come the geeks. It"s too much to bear."