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Poker goes to college

With the explosion of online gaming sites and poker being televised on numerous cable networks like ESPN and Bravo, college kids are now getting in on the game.

Chet Patel, a UNCG junior commented about online poker “I would say I got addicted pretty quick. But I would usually put only $25 into my account at a time. Sometimes I’d lose it all in one week, and sometimes I would turn it into $250, which would help me break even for all the $25 deposits.”

Within a few weeks of learning how to play Patel was playing with friends in weekly games.

“It started out as just a few of our closest friends getting together to play… then we were averaging like seven or eight guys at the game. Before we knew it, it sort of snowballed into 18-player tournaments and multitable tournaments. It was a little crazy.”

A study carried out in 2005 showed that 26% of college men gamble in online card games once a month and 4% do so once a week or more.

"I definitely never played poker until I got to college and it was big on TV in the last few years," said Allen Murphy, an N.C. A&T senior who said he plays with friends at least once a week. “To be honest, I thought it was kind of a stuffy old man game. But I learned it, and now appreciate it.

“It’s that thrill of knowing you could lose a lot of money but you could also walk away with the whole pot,” Murphy added. “And the Internet makes it real easy to feel that same thrill when you can play anyone from anywhere you want.”

University psychologists say that, while they are not seeing it often, online poker can become a serious addiction.

“It’s all about the amount of time and money they are spending on it.” said Bruce Lynch of UNCG’s Counseling and Testing Center. “Of course, there’s the potential for it to cause problems. I would see it as my role to ask students who gamble what impact that’s having on their lives. Most people won’t deal with that sort of problem until they can see its negative effects.”

Officially most colleges forbid student gambling but administrators said they aren’t aggressively pursuing it.

“In eight years no one can remember a student coming up on conduct charges for holding a poker game,” said Dr. Jen Day Shaw, UNCG’s dean of students.

“Clearly we’re agents of the state, so we have to uphold state and federal laws,” Shaw said. “But we always come at it from more of a concern-for-student perspective, so I’m sure that on the dorm level, which is where they would encounter it first, it would be more like ‘Hey, we’re worried about you’ than ‘Hey, you’re in trouble,’”

To cement this belief UNCG is getting in on the action by offering a non-credit course in Texas Hold’em to be taught by Greensboro poker pro Mark Cole, veteran of the infamous World Series of Poker.

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with playing poker for entertainment,” Cole commented. “I think it can consume some people who take it too far, like drugs or alcohol or anything else.

“But playing poker face to face can be a good social gathering,” he added. “If you don’t go overboard, you can do it for less than it would cost you to go to the movies.”

Running from late March to late May the course and the school has received some flak, but officials have said they are just following a powerful trend like their students have.

“We had a UNCG alumnas complaint that we were teaching people to gamble,” said Betsy Seale, UNCG’s director of community development. “But that’s not the way we see it. We’re just offering a course on a game that’s very big right now. It’s new, it’s edgy, people are seeing it on TV. We’re all fascinated with it.”


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