Gambling, addiction, and all that jazz

Erin Harkless
Dan Daranciang

This is the first part of a three-part series discussing the allure, addiction, and effects of the poker craze on WU’s campus and elsewhere. Look for the next installment on Monday, Sept. 7.

One monitor, four hands, potentially $60 or more made in one hour of play. For many young people, this could be a typical evening in a game of online poker, where the stakes are high, but the thrill of a potential win leaves the victor feeling even higher.

Junior David Barlow started playing poker in high school with friends. When he arrived at Washington University, he played in a few live games, but eventually turned to online poker. He felt he was a little better than the competition he was going up against in live games and therefore good enough to venture into the world of online poker. Although he was timid at first, he made the initial deposit of $50 and began to play. Now he feels he can win almost anytime he sits down to play.

“When I sit down, I expect to win. Losing is out of the ordinary,” said Barlow.

He noted that there was a huge percentage increase in how much money he made online, and at first, it was fun to play for that reason. While playing live poker games was more of a social activity and an opportunity to have fun with friends, Barlow explained that it is not necessarily the best medium for optimal play. There is more emphasis on making money in online play.

Early on, Barlow was playing anywhere from 30 to 40 hours per week. He said he doesn’t need a lot of sleep to function, so he’d play late at night. Initially, his playing wasn’t taking away from his studies-but eventually he felt it starting to catch up.

Now Barlow is playing closer to 10 hours a week at most, as he has a heavier class load this semester, along with less desire to play. Now, online poker playing is just another source of income for Barlow.

“It’s not necessarily fun anymore, but it’s a way to make money easily,” he said.

On-Campus and Online

In the past few years, America’s fascination with poker has grown. From ESPN’s broadcasts of The World Series of Poker and Tilt, its new series on poker players in Las Vegas, to the Celebrity Poker Showdown on the Bravo Network, poker is all over television. This increased visibility plus the ease of learning games such as Texas Hold’em has made poker a popular pastime or sport for people of all ages.

Psychology professor Leonard Green explained that a social activity like poker is a reinforcing behavior. The positive reinforcement of winning along with the visual enjoyment that comes from actually watching the goings-on makes poker a game that students can easily pass their time playing.

“It’s a type of virtual social engagement,” said Green.

Many students start playing live games with friends, but the higher stakes of the online game draw many to that arena. Popular sites include and Players can download the software online, and then must register a bank account or credit card so money can be put into the account. After the account is registered, play begins, often among individuals who do not know each other. offers a multitude of games, including Texas Hold’em, Omaha Hi/Low and Seven-Card Stud. In addition, a range of tournaments are available on the site for players to engage in. Wagering can be limited, no limit or pot limit. Buy-ins on the site vary depending on the stakes of the game, but are usually ten times the lower stake of the game. has been in operation since 2001 and claims to be the world’s largest poker room on its Web site. boasts over 20,000 players, 3,000 tables and close to 900 tournaments on its site daily. It also maintains a frequent player point program that rewards players for playing on their site and a statistical tracker that allows players to monitor the number of times they have played a hand in various positions or the number of times they have been dealt in.

On campus, students have found online poker to be an easy way to pass their time in their rooms, between classes, or even while at work on various jobs around campus that are computer accessible. Like Barlow, most started playing in high school and have continued with the game in college, where free time often seems to abound. Some students still play in live tournaments, but online games are a good way to increase the stakes and bring in more money.

For students looking for live games, numerous campus groups have sponsored poker tournaments on campus this year. Dan Marx, a junior, coordinated two poker tournaments this past spring as AEPi’s Thurtene fundraising co-chair. The tournaments usually had a $15 buy-in and lasted between four and five hours.

“People seem to have fun and it’s a good way to raise money,” Marx said.

Other players stick mostly with the online game, as they see it as the best way to test their skills and bring in a nice income. Sophomore Harrison Moffitt has used in the past, but plans on switching to because he will be able to take advantage of a rake-back deal. In most cases, the company’s take is known as the rake. An affiliate will offer Moffitt roughly $400 a month, mostly based on the amount of poker he plays. In this deal, he will be able to get some of his rake back and make extra money on top of what he earns from the actual games he plays.

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