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Online Poker News Archives - October 24, 2004

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 are higher

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 cards.

   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 Mount Pleasant.

   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 after hours."

   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,"
Drakeford says.

   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 Hold'em.

   "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 top prize.

   "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 morning."

   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 federal level.

   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, 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

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