Star Tribune series on college men and gambling
Yesterday's Minneapolis Star Tribune had an interesting cover story on young college men playing poker professionally, some while they continue their studies, and some in place of their studies.
Poker is red hot on college campuses these days. A small number of students have made it a full-time job, turning what is a game for most into a profession where tens of thousands of dollars can come and go in a single night.
Today's college students are among the first to grow up with gambling so accessible. Credit is easily available. Casinos, once relegated to Las Vegas and Atlantic City, are now scattered across 37 states. Poker is a regular feature on cable TV.
Going to the casino has become a rite of passage for Minnesota students as they turn 18. Freshmen play poker in dorm rooms, fraternities and bars host Texas Hold 'Em tournaments, and students hold sports betting pools and use wireless Internet connections to play anytime, anywhere.
"I make a joke that ... the second-best gambling environment in America is the college dorm," said Ken Winters, a professor at the University of Minnesota who has studied youth addictions, including gambling. "You've got your privacy, you've got your high-speed Internet, you have independence from a parent, you probably now have some credit card money. ... It's like a little mini casino right in your laptop. ... It's almost too easy."
College-age men, especially, have embraced the poker phenomenon.
Card-playing and Internet gambling have increased among college-age males over the past five years, the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania found. About 16 percent of them played cards weekly in 2006, up from nearly 13 percent in 2005, and nearly 6 percent of them gambled online weekly, up from 2.3 percent in 2005.
The poker players sparkle like celebrities on cable TV, often sitting coolly in sunglasses while raking in their chips.
The gambling industry sells itself by marketing the kind of high-stakes wins that are routine for only a few. It's a potent lure, and one that many college students -- already high-risk takers -- pay attention to. Some marketing is aimed directly at them: "win your tuition" tournaments, fliers on campus kiosks, offers for fraternity fundraising.
It's not hard to find opportunities to gamble if you're a college student.
The start-up Sigma Pi fraternity at the University of Minnesota didn't even have a house yet when a poker website came calling last summer.
"I thought that your fraternity may be in need of some fundraising, and I might be able to help," read the e-mail from someone who works for Absolute Poker. The message offered to hold an online tournament and donate money for everyone who participated.
"To my knowledge, that was the first piece of advertising our fraternity received," fraternity treasurer Craig Bantz said.
I find it disturbing that before the mentioned fraternity had even moved into a house, an online gambling website had contacted members about setting up a tournament.