Copyright 2004 The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)
The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)
October 24, 2004 Sunday final Edition
HEADLINE: Poker is the new bridge, but the stakes
BYLINE: JUDY WATTS Of The Post and Courier Staff
While local poker
once meant a bunch of guys getting together to drink beer and
play cards, the scene has changed. Inspired by TV and online
poker, small groups that had been getting together on Friday
nights began organizing tournaments.
And despite the fact that gambling (except
for bingo and the state-sanctioned
lottery) is illegal in South Carolina, there's money in those
One man involved in the local poker scene makes
$8,000-$10,000 per year playing poker. He agreed to talk to The
Post and Courier with the condition his identity be kept confidential.
For the purpose of this story, he will be called Zeke.
"There are probably five or six tournaments
running on a regular basis in the Charleston area with $30 to
$100 entry fees," says Zeke.
He has been in on organizing larger tournaments
with a $2,000 or higher total stake. Throughout the conversation,
Zeke refers to groups in West Ashley, Goose Creek, downtown and
He says Mount Pleasant is the most active area,
probably, he surmises, because it is affluent.
The players are a diverse mix of professionals,
blue- and white-collar workers and couples.
Poker is the new bridge for couples, a group
that makes up a large percentage of the growing number of players
at poker parties.
Zeke says the age range of players is usually
early 20s to mid-50s. He asks that their professions not be disclosed."A
number of people run tournaments out of their homes," he
says. "And there are some establishments that run tournaments
According to Zeke, these are not the rough
games of 20 years ago.
"Then you had to worry about getting shot.
Poker has become so
middle class, so suburban. And it's so widespread," Zeke
says. "Is this the kind of gambling to worry about, or is
it a social thing?"
The basic difference, Zeke says, between local
tournaments and those in Reno, Nev., is that entry fees in local
tourneys go toward the prize fund, but in Nevada, 10 percent to
20 percent of the entry fees go to the house.
But the biggest difference, according to State
Law Enforcement Division Inspector Stacy Drakeford, is that in
Nevada, betting is legal. In South Carolina, it's not.
"It is gambling and it is illegal in South
Carolina. It's a violation,"
Zeke compares poker tournaments to other games
such as Monopoly and chess.
"Chess is a form of gambling, too, if
you are paying an entry fee to win prize money. It's just that
poker has a bad rep," says Zeke. "I've gambled on everything.
"The last tournament we had over here,
there were 40 people and the entry fee was $40, so we had $1,600
in the pot," says Zeke.
He cites large tournaments such as the World
Series of Poker as the granddaddy of all tournament poker. It
began in the late 1970s with 30 players.
Last year, more than 2,500 players entered. "And the entry
fee was $10,000 and still is today," says Zeke. "That's
a lot of prize money."
The introduction of online poker changed tournament
poker, according to Zeke. It's possible to win a seat at a live
event by playing online.
He recalls 27-year-old accountant Chris Moneymaker, the winner
of last year's World Series of Poker, who qualified online. The
game was No-Limit Texas
"He paid $40 and won at a satellite event
and had his entry fee into the World Series paid. Everybody wants
to be Chris Moneymaker," says Zeke.
Moneymaker won the tournament's $2.5 million
"The game has changed, gotten so popular
and so big, that now what used to be the realm of only pros includes
amateurs," Zeke says. "Probably, right now, there are
about 6,000 people in the Greater Charleston area playing in online
tournaments and mini-tournaments -- and it's 10 o'clock in the
He has been playing poker for four years, 2-1/2
online. Zeke says the majority of people who play poker in the
Lowcountry play online.
"Online is a different beast. You have
to figure out what their betting pattern is. A player's reads,
clues on your opponent's hand, come only from observing opponents'
betting rhythms and routines. Reads are much easier in live play
because you can see their face, and notice tells," says Zeke.
Zeke says that the online
gambling industry largely is unregulated.
Drakeford says that while no online cases have
been decided in South Carolina, there have been several at the
Doug Dunlap of the racketeering and analysis
division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Quantico, Va.,
said he wasn't allowed to speak with the media about such cases.
Although he said he would find someone who could talk, subsequent
repeated efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.
"Most of those (online gambling) accounts
are technically in other countries, " says Drakeford.
The first big online gambling site was UltimateBet.com,
which gained legitimacy with endorsements from poker celebrities
such as Phil Helmuth and Amy Duke. The site offered players an
opportunity to play with the pros.
"Most of the tables are high stakes, but
it makes pro players accessible,"
says Zeke. "Online poker invented a new kind of poker player.
You can make a lot of money playing online. I would imagine there
are thousands. I spend 20 hours a week playing tournament poker
online. I don't play high stakes, but I treat it like a job."
Drakeford says that while online gambling falls
under federal statutes, gambling still is not legal in South Carolina.
"If you look at the state statute, it says betting on something
in which there is no skill involved is gambling."
Judy Watts is a feature writer and can be reached
at 937-5743 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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