Red Right 88

Cleveland sports fan and sports writer

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

quit my job decided to drive west

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Gambling for tuition is a bad bet for almost all

I received an email from a poker website that wanted me to write a story about how a college student won a year’s tuition from playing in a free poker tournament. The website is looking for publicity for another tournament coming in May. This site, one of many, features poker showdowns between students from various universities throughout the year.

And they wanted me to help spread how college students can get tuition money.

Talk about a sucker bet. Over 12,000 students from over 300 schools took place in the tournament. None of them paid a dime and one walked away with a $16,000 value. Wow, this website really cares about education.

People from all walks of life enjoy playing cards. Many can play with restraint and just have a good time. But like any good thing, too much can lead to trouble. Kids playing too much poker is not a good thing. They only show the good parts on TV.

Athletes are especially at risk. It would be fair to say that many athletes enjoy competition. The will to compete and win drive many of the best. It is why you see such high profile athletes as Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Alex Rodriguez, Jeff Gordon and Curt Schilling involved in high stakes gambling including poker.

I play poker. I win some. I lose some. In high school, my only job was a vendor at Browns and Indians games. I supplemented my income by playing poker. It was a good gig until one day I got caught up in a game that could have had serious consequences. I quit playing for almost ten years. Often in college I was tempted by what I saw as easy marks, but resisted because of that one bad day. When I did start playing again, I was an adult who had a better understanding of how much to bet, who to bet with and what my limits were.

If you think I am overreacting, Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. has complied some alarming data.

“The 18 to 24-year-old age group has some of the highest rates of gambling addictions,” Whyte said. “The glamorization of gambling, especially poker, without any accompanying responsible messaging is terribly irresponsible.

“It's actively soliciting kids to gamble, and in some states, that may be illegal,” Whyte said. “You wouldn't have a college drinking championship, or a college smoking It is telling kids that you can make a living playing poker.”

Whyte's watchdog group wants Web sites and casinos - and even colleges where students are playing poker heavily - to educate people about gambling addictions.

“What I've heard anecdotally, the colleges are much more focused on things like drug abuse, date rape and binge drinking,” Whyte said. “Gambling is seen as a victimless crime at best. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s glamorized on TV and in the media in a way that other addictions are not. There’s the impression that through skill you can beat the odds. But randomness is always going to have a bigger factor in determining the outcome than your skill. And unfortunately, that’s not the message these kids get.”

I did not have Internet access until my senior year of college; my school didn’t even get cable in the dorm until that year. I wasn’t aware of the World Series of Poker or that people even made a living at it. I had never heard of Texas Hold‘em let alone have some version of it on television almost 24 hours a day.

I wonder if I had access to a credit card and what I would perceive as easy marks online what I would have done in college and high school.

As someone who covers high school sports, it is amazing how many times I have heard talk of a poker game among the athletes. I would think the temptation to play poker is at an all time high in college right now.

Playing poker doesn’t mean you have a problem. Just like drinking doesn’t mean you are an alcoholic. But neither is harmless and when abused can have serious consequences.

Being an athlete, I believe, puts you more at risk. That competitive edge that says you can handle more and given the opportunity, can pull out a win, increases the danger of getting in over your head.

Whyte agrees.

“Athletes are taught to be competitive and aggressive,” he said. “They hate to lose. They have that mentality to play hurt and practice makes perfect. If they are down money, they may take another $100 on the credit card that they can win everything back.”

Dan Romer, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, oversees the annual Annenberg National Risk Survey of Youth.

His 2005 research indicates that there has been a 20 percent increase in young people age 14 to 22 who play cards at least once a month. Eighty percent of those players are male. As for those who play at least once a week, it is estimated that number is 2.9 million. Approximately 580,000 14 to 22 year olds are gambling on the Internet at least once a week. In 2004, 44.9 percent of the respondents to the survey had at least one problem symptom. This year the percentage went up to 54.5.

Romer has found that about 8.7 percent (up from 8 percent two years ago) of the young people surveyed showed signs of having a gambling problem.

If that figure is correct than while one student won his college tuition at the above-mentioned tournament, 800 of those who played in the tournament are well on their way to a gambling problem.

Can’t say I like those odds.