Copyright 2004 Investor's Business Daily, Inc.
Investor's Business Daily
October 1, 2004 Friday
SECTION: SECTION INTERNET & TECHNOLOGY;
NATIONAL EDITION; Pg. A04
Poker's Flush With Success As More Folks Deal Themselves In;
Discarding Legal Issues; Your telltale poker face won't cost you
a penny, and a seat's always open
BYLINE: BY ANDREA ORR
For 40 years, Orrin Gowen turned to his weekly
poker games for male bonding, relaxation and low-stakes gambling.
Recently, technology and retirement have changed
that hallowed routine. Now when Gowen is off on an extended vacation,
or if he just gets bored in the middle of the day, he grabs a
few games with some strangers in cyberspace.
"It's very convenient," said the
63-year old retired lawyer from St.
Petersburg, Fla. "There's always a game going."
Exactly how many games are going is difficult
to say. The online poker "industry" is so fragmented
that no one even knows how many poker sites exist.
By any estimate, the numbers are large, suggesting that enthusiasts
like Gowen and others who have never sat around an actual poker
table or set foot in a casino are being swept up in the trend.
PokerPulse.com tracks hundreds of sites offering
poker, in which players place bets for 25 cents up to hundreds
of dollars or compete for play money. It estimates that more than
$135 million is typically wagered in a 24-hour period.
50 Million Players
The game is popular worldwide, but particularly
in the U.S. It's estimated that more than 50 million Americans
play, or have played.
All this growth has come in spite of the fact
that online poker
is not necessarily a legal activity. No legislation has been passed
addressing the game, but several lawmakers maintain it is banned
under the Wire Communications Act, passed back in 1961 to address
crime committed over phone lines.
The game's murky legal status has led American
Express and other credit card issuers to prohibit card use for
online gambling. And recently PayPal, the online payment arm of
eBay, said it would fine people who used its cash transfer service
for online gambling.
It seems few players have been dissuaded. Players
say they could always find plenty of small banks that would let
them charge gambling debts on their credit cards. Or, like Gowen,
they pay by personal check ahead of time.
As for the game itself, call it poker without
the poker face. Playing from a home PC reduces the potential to
intimidate your opponents and makes for a game where analytic
skills are more important. Instead of attempting to decipher the
meaning of an opponent's smirk, online
poker makes you carefully study your hand and calculate the
odds of different cards coming up.
Also, automated shuffling and card dealing
make for a fast game in which players don't have the luxury of
pondering their next moves.
"Offline you might, for example, play
two or three games per hour," said Patrik Selin, chief executive
of PokerRoom.com, a Swedish company that is the second largest
online poker site behind PartyPoker.com in terms of registered
users. "Online you can play 100 hands per hour. You could
win a few thousand dollars in a matter of seconds."
While sites like PokerRoom like to promote
the potential for large wins, the reverse is true as well. Like
day trading in the late 1990s, online poker offers the potential
to strike it rich or lose your shirt in a matter of minutes.
Increasingly reports are surfacing of serious players who quit
their jobs to earn a living through Internet gambling.
This kind of mania for the game has raised
concern from groups working to treat gambling addictions. "The
online game does have some unique risk factors,"
said Keith Whyte, executive director for the National Council
on Problem Gambling. "There's the social isolation, and there
is the 24-hour unlimited access."
PokerRoom's Selin stresses that it is first
and foremost a game, and an edge-of-your-seat and intelligent
one at that. "When you play online, you really need to know
the mathematics of the game," he said.
PokerRoom says its business has grown 60% this
year. It estimates that 80% of its 2.5 million registered players
are based in the U.S.
Some old-school poker types have been harder
to convert, but their biases started to fade last year after an
accountant with the appropriate name of Chris Moneymaker won $2.5
million in the World Series of Poker, the best-known offline poker
tournament. Moneymaker was unknown in poker circles and had trained
almost exclusively online. He used a mere $40 stake to get into,
and win, a satellite tournament that gained him entry to the big
"Everyone started to say, "If he
can parlay $40 into $2.5 million, I can too, ' " said Lou
Krieger, author of "The Poker Player's Bible" and other
Because of the game's blurry legal status,
virtually all the online poker sites are based outside of the
U.S. Most say they would prefer not to have to operate in the
shadow of the law. Some are lobbying lawmakers to pass a clear
set of regulations.
They are not holding their breath. PokerRoom's
Selin jokes that the only real problem with the current unresolved
legal status is that his tax bill in Sweden is so high.
"It would be perfect if we could move
to the U.S." he said. "The taxes would be much lower."
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