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Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Newspaper Group
December 1, 2005
TV, Internet adding fuel to America's poker craze
Author: Edward Barrera
Jeff Coda was bit by the poker bug two years ago while watching
the World Series of Poker on ESPN.
Fascinated by the intricacies of the game and the high stakes
involved, he bought a deck of cards and started teaching himself.
Soon he and a group of friends started a regular Thursday night
game of no-limit Texas
In an attempt to perfect his play, the 27-year-old Redlands man
began playing poker online
about a year ago. He made the rounds on the free sites for six
months before upping the ante and playing for money.
"I'm not going to risk money that I can't afford to lose,"
the restaurant manager said, talking about his regular poker nights
and online playing. "You should not be playing the game (for
money) if you can't afford to lose some money, but I'm also trying
to win and be successful at the game."
It's the convergence of Internet
gambling, high-stake games on TV, and allure of the risk-taking
competition that has caused the proliferation of poker playing
whether it be the ultrapopular Texas Hold 'Em or the standard
five-card stud. Gambling critics say it's all starting to have
a negative influence on younger players, but proponents view it
as wiping away the perception that poker is a seedy game.
Justin Marchand, managing editor of Card Player, an international
poker magazine, said playing online gives people a chance to learn
the rules for free and then enter low-stakes games before trying
their hand at high-stakes contests.
"Online poker is proving to be safe and affordable, and
learning in the comfort of one's home helps playing in the real
games," he said. "This past World Series of Poker, the
field doubled and many are learning from online poker."
Marchand said that younger players are starting to compete in
poker tournaments, mentioning 21-year-old Nick Schulman who won
the World Poker Tour event this past week at Foxwoods Casino in
Connecticut. Schulman took home the $2.1 million prize.
While online poker has been a boon to the industry, Gary Thompson,
operations director for the World Series of Poker, said the hole-card
camera and increasing monetary prizes has especially spurred the
"I'm not going to beat Tiger Woods at golf or tackle LaDainian
Tomlinson, but I can play poker and win a fortune and that's heady
stuff," Thompson said. "You can be young or old, man
or woman, rich or poor and you still have a chance."
The entry field for the World Series of Poker tournament, which
is owned by Harrah's Entertainment, has increased in the past
three years from 839 in 2003 to 5,719 in 2005, Thompson said.
In addition, prize money ballooned from $22 million in 2003 to
$103 million in 2005 with the first-place winner receiving $7.5
million, he said.
Thompson said the television exposure including allowing viewers
to see cards the other players can't see has led not only to fortune
but also fame with endorsements sometimes doubling a winner's
But it's the allure of being a star like those who play on ESPN,
Fox Sports and Bravo's celebrity show, and the easy access of
online gambling sites that worry gambling-addiction experts.
Mark Lefkowitz, director of training for the California Council
on Problem Gambling, said the most dangerous trend surfacing is
the age of poker players.
"We are starting to see it through gambler anonymous meetings
with poker players who are getting younger and younger,"
Lefkowitz said. "They suck you in (online) by saying they
are trying to teach you and then they have you."
The gambling addiction organization has seen an increase in callers
seeking help on its hotline. The largest influx of calls come
from the 909 area code, according to the group's annual statistics.
The annual report states that on average the person who needs
help through the hotline spent $33,636 gambling in 2004. The bulk
of those with a potential gambling problem are between 36 and
65 years old. But the percentage of those under 36 is slowly increasing
from 31.7 percent in 2003 to 34.7 percent in 2004, the report
While the report doesn't break out all types of poker games,
it does note the rise in Internet games as being the cause of
Christen Reilly, executive director of the Institute of Pathological
Gambling and Related Disorders, affiliated with Harvard Medical
School, cautioned about rushing to judgment on the consequences
of Internet gambling.
"The jury is still out on whether there is an increasing
rate of online gambling disorders it's so new," Reilly said.
"There are indications that there may be problems, but it's
too early to tell."
But David Robertson, a board member of the National Coalition
Against Legalized Gambling, said the anecdotal evidence is frightening.
"We are beginning to see that poker
is becoming the majority of calls received by major addiction
hotlines," he said. "You see parents throwing their
children poker parties thinking it's harmless, and now we are
seeing young people who call who are in way over their heads."
But none of the opponents or proponents of poker see the popularity
explosion stopping anytime soon.
"With the fame and fortune out there, it can be a life changing
amount of money," said Thompson, World Series of Poker director
of operations. "People love the competition."
Edward Barrera can be reached by e-mail at edward.barreraor by
phone at (909) 483-9356.
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