Students lay all their cards on the table

On a quiet weeknight on Wolfe 10, five-dollar bills are being collected and counted. Unlike other nights in the week, however, the money is not being used for fast food or beer. It’s for a poker game.

Poker has exploded in popularity over the past year. Bravo’s “Celebrity Poker” and ESPN’s coverage of the sport coupled with online versions of the game have piqued the interest of many high school and college students throughout the country. Experts on the game estimate that between 50 and 80 million peopel participate in some form of poker in this country, according to a recent article in The Washington Post. But what is the biggest lure of this activity?

“Money,” Mark Morales, freshman open options business major, said.

Morales is one of the hosts of an approximately bi-weekly poker game on Wolfe 10. The game of choice is Texas Hold’em, and although the stakes are usually not high, the players take it seriously. When money is in question for college students, it is hard for the participants not to become anxious.

Although poker is a social game, the majority of its players regard it as a money-maker and a game of strategy that requires concentration and skill. For this reason, many players will not accept inexperienced players with open arms. And because many poker players got their start with a “boys night” in high school, many females find themselves without the “street cred” necessary to pay up, or, in poker terms, ante up.

“I feel like girls don’t know what they’re doing. I can learn from the guys,” Jonna Mahalchik, freshman accounting major, said. However, the male participants in the games tend to overlook the gender of the player in favor of his or her skill.

Although females are less frequent participants in the regular games, they do play but tend to skip the monetary aspect that their male peers hold in such high regard, according to Mahalchik.

“I don’t really care either way, as long as the person knows what they’re doing,” Morales said about the presence of girls at the table.

As the poker circles increase, the money increases, and so does the angst.

“Poker can be very stressful,” Debopom Mitra, freshman economics major, said. “You can never win every hand, and dejection sets in.”

A slightly more optimistic Morales said that poker is more of a stress reliever for him – when he wins. His monetary earnings most frequently go to Taco Bell or more poker buy-ins.

In 2003, half of the males surveyed in the 14-to-18 age bracket admitted to gambling for money in a study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center.

Morales too, plays for money. “I don’t like to play without money,” he said. “When people play without money they know they’re playing for nothing, and it affects the game.”

While poker itself may seem harmless, the availability of online games and the allure of winning money from an hour of play can provide an opportunity for addiction, according to a recent ABC news article. None of the enthusiasts interviewed seemed worried about this possibility.

“It’ll never happen to me,” Mitra said.

Playing poker a couple of nights a week is hardly a red flag for a more serious problem, but the reliance on playing as a source of income can be troublesome. This idea of only playing for money contrasts with the intentions and funding for the new Poker Club on campus.

“We funded them for equipment, though they are not eligible for funding for any type of gambling operation,” Craig Gross, chairperson of the Student Finance Board said. “Therefore, they are very limited with what they may use their budget for.”

The fact that the Poker Club will not be supported if money is involved does not entice many current players to sign up.

“I guess it’s okay for new players to learn, but the level that I’m at – I wouldn’t play without money,” Mitra said.

In the same vein, Morales expressed discontent witth the club, citing the fact that aside from the money, poker is a social game and he enjoys playing with people he knows. He said he isn’t interested in playing with school- stipulated regulations.

“I live and die by my own rules,” Morales said.