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Online Poker News Archives - September 27, 2004

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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 But since the summer, their pastimes have been replaced by a new obsession: Texas Hold'em.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 gambling addiction.

   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 that."

   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, collecting $25.

   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 poker."

        Allie Shah is at

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