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Copyright 2004 Star Tribune
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)
September 27, 2004, Monday, Metro Edition
HEADLINE: Teen poker producing full houses;
Texas Hold'em has
become a fad with teenagers, but gambling officials urge caution.
BYLINE: Allie Shah; Staff Writer
Saturday nights used to find Danny
Langseth and his Minnetonka High pals at the movie theater or
at one another's homes playing video games. But since the summer,
their pastimes have been replaced by a new obsession: Texas Hold'em.
Spurred by online
poker and cable TV shows such as ESPN's "World Series
of Poker" and Bravo's "Celebrity Poker Showdown,"
the game has become wildly popular with teenagers and college
students. They hold tournaments in their basements and dorm rooms,
paying $5 to $10 each for a shot at winning the jackpot. The more
players, the bigger the pot.
And while the money certainly holds their attention,
most teen card sharks say they're hooked on the ambiance, not
the betting. "I think we just play for fun and have fun with
each other," said Danny, 16. "We crack jokes all the
time. It's just a good pastime, a good way to spend the weekends."
A tournament Saturday drew 16 teens to a Minnetonka home where
players - some wearing sunglasses - filled three rooms with the
sound of poker chips and the occasional "all-in" shout.
State gambling enforcement officials say private,
social betting is legal even among minors, but parents should
watch to make sure they don't turn into high-stakes gambling events. Others
caution that the poker fad could lead some teens to develop a
Fifteen-year-old Chris Osborn of St. Paul considers
poker his No. 1 hobby. A casual player, he said he really got
into the game last summer when he and his friends had a lot of
free time. "At first, I thought it was kind of a manly thing
to do. Then it was just really fun," said Osborn, who has
a date to play Texas
Hold'em this Saturday with 40 friends. "It was something
I just liked doing."
Like so many other teen poker groups, his is
an all-male crew. Osborn said he knows a few girls who play Texas
Hold'em, but they don't seem to enjoy the game enough to devote
their weekends to it. "They kind of get mad at us because
we don't hang out with them," he said. When he's not playing,
Osborn, a sophomore at Como Park High School, likes to watch the
great poker players on TV.
The shows definitely are popular with teens,
observed Danny Langseth's father, Tom. "Listen to these kids,
and you'll see they know all these characters, like with wrestling,"
an amused Tom Langseth said. "They'll say, 'He 's the guy
who wears the hood,' or 'He always wears glasses.' "
At first, Tom Langseth was wary of his son's
new hobby. "My initial response was - I don't want to say
concern - but cautious interest," he said. "I didn't
want him wrapped up in some activities that are financially going
to be an impact for him or a distraction for other things that
we put a greater value on, like church, service work and homework."
Any questions he had about the poker
tournaments evaporated once he found out that Danny's poker
buddies are an intellectual bunch. The fact that the weekly games
have expanded Danny's social circle is another reason his parents
don't object, Danny said. "It gives me some different kids
to hang out with than I normally hang out with, and they welcome
Saturday's tournament lasted more than five
hours. At $5 each, that's cheap weekend entertainment - cheaper
than a movie and more interactive, too, the Minnetonka players
said. Erik Adams, 16, who started the "North Star Poker League"
in August with his friend, Chris Eckes, also 16, created a Web
site to keep track of players' standings and upcoming tournaments.
On Saturday night, the teens downed cans of
pop and nibbled on pizza as they studied their cards, placed bets
and talked about everything from music to Spanish class to the
presidential candidates. Like a baseball game, the tournament
shifted quickly from easy-going to intense. When one player decided
to go "all-in," meaning he bet all of his chips in one
hand, the others rushed over to watch, jumping up and down as
the dealer revealed the turn card (fourth card dealt face up),
then the river card (last card given in a game). They hooted and
hollered when a player survived the round, and shook his hand
when he lost and was out of the game.
Eventually, Peter Ladner, 16, won the tournament,
Frank Ball, director of the Minnesota Department
of Public Safety's Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement division,
said parents often call him and ask if their children's poker
parties are legal. "I tell them: Let them play cards, but
be mindful of the betting. If you see them betting their allowances,
say, 'Why don't you play for toothpicks or monopoly money?' "
Betty George, director of the Minnesota Council
on Compulsive Gambling, casts a worried eye on poker's increasing
popularity among teenagers. She said studies show that compared
with adults, minors are three to four times more at risk of developing
a gambling addiction. That's because the power of the win is very
attractive to teenagers, who are less likely than adults to understand
that winning is a random thing, she said.
She said a twenty-something named Andy started
gambling in the casinos when he was in high school. A gifted athlete,
he won a college scholarship to play football. But he became addicted
to gambling, George said, and he resorted to illegal activities
- breaking into a cabin, stealing a credit card - to fund his
habit. He spent time in jail, losing both the scholarship and
his family's respect. He sought help and has since helped the
council develop a video called "Andy's story," which
is used in schools to educate kids about the dangers of gambling.
George's advice to parents and teenagers is
to get the facts and make the best decision for your family.
For his 17th birthday last week, Greg Narayan
of White Bear Lake asked for poker chips. His mother, Susan, paid
$120 for the present, which included 500 brightly colored chips
and two sets of cards in an aluminum case.
All of a sudden, her skateboarding son and
his friends are into poker. "Everyone plays," she said.
"They sound like a bunch of old men. They sit around in the
afternoons and play
Allie Shah is
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