These days poker is everywhere. On television, the World Series of Poker draws an intense following, and Bravo’s spin-off Celebrity Poker keeps audiences tuning in. TILT, ESPN’s hit casino drama, revolves around the secrecy of a card-shark way of life and uses the stereotypically “male” interest in gambling to disguise its dramatic allure. On the Internet, advertisements for countless online poker games pop up within minutes of surfing, in both an irritating and interesting fashion. Books with the latest techniques line the shelves at bookstores. And a game can be found on nearly any block in the East Lansing area on a Friday night.
[poker] All of these versions of poker have one thing in common: the glitz, glamour and “guaranteed” big payout that comes with being a poker whiz. A card game older than most of us Spartans is sweeping across college campuses, compelling “poor” college students to drop their books and rush over to the nearest pick-up game. If we’re so poor, how can poker be such a hit?
Although money-free online poker games receive many hits, in-person is the preferred method of play, according to both political science and journalism freshman Nate Erickson and education sophomore Chris Nelson.
“You can read faces, gauge reactions and it’s definitely more exciting,” Erickson said. “When I play online, I lose focus and start making bad calls.”
Erickson and Nelson are both members of MSU’s Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, which regularly engages in poker games with its members. Poker draws its popularity from the rush of the potential of winning more money than the buy-in fee, which at a standard of $5, is fairly cheap and will not severely dent the wallet if lost. “I don’t play for money online and poker is a lot more exciting and fun when playing for money,” Nelson said. “Generally, people will play very differently when there is money on the line.”
Computer science graduate student Sherri Goings also partakes in the $5 buy-in tournaments and says her interest stemmed from male friends who play. “I have always liked all card games and statistics, but when poker became online and was easy to play, I really started getting into it,” Goings said. “My lab [class] started having poker nights every couple of weeks where we would play together.”
[money] Initially, poker can seem like a simple game, and no big deal to lose a few bucks here and there. But excessive playing and frequent gambling of large amounts of money can have detrimental effects on the life of a college student, and can also lead to gambling problems later in life. Lou Krieger, the host of Royal Vegas Poker and the College Poker Championship, has written several books on improving one’s game, such as Poker for Dummies and Hold ‘Em Excellence. To reduce the tendency for a poker player to go overboard, Krieger suggests remembering money won during a poker game will not be extra money, as “poker players have to pay rent and buy groceries like everybody else.”
Goings knows this phrase is a wise one and has yet to lose a lot of money in a high-stakes poker game. “I’ve never lost more than $50 in all my time playing,” Goings said. “I know some people that play for a living, and there are times when they’ve lost $5,000 in one night. But since they make around $100,000 a year, it is not a big deal.”
Banking on the new-found poker craze, the University Activities Board (UAB) offers a free way to get your fix by adding more poker to their annual Casino Nights, according to Tami Kuhn, manager of the University Activities Office. Held during the spring semester, this year’s Casino Night in February drew about 500 Spartans with a taste for gambling. This event is free to students, and chips used to play both poker and other casino favorites such as roulette are unlimited.
“At the end of the night, students can take their chips and convert them to tickets in order to select prizes,” Kuhn said. “The Casino Night has become a popular event over the years, and it has become somewhat of a tradition.”
With free alternatives and bills to pay, why would so many college kids waste their money on a card game?
“I usually just take the money out of my bank account and justify it with the knowledge that so far this year, I’m still above,” Erickson said. “As long as I don’t feel like I’m losing money, I’m satisfied.”
With the rush of a high-stakes hand and the thrill of winning urging more college students to pick up a pack of cards and play, it doesn’t look like this craze will be folding anytime soon.

To become a campus card shark, learn the rules of poker at http://www.pagat.com/vying/pokerrank.html.

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