By Josh Wingrove
Late Sunday night in Pitman Hall, the sounds of televisions, video games, movies and music pervade the halls.
Some students sleep, others talk with friends, others read. Not Dan, whose name has been changed, because he is meeting friends to play Texas Hold’Em, a popular type of poker.
Gambling for money is illegal, but figures of authority seem to be paying attention to the small money players. Dan said he’s not worried about being caught. “It’s like drinking in rez. You’re not allowed to, but, you know… “We’re playing for a harmless amount,” he said. “I would never play for anything my friends can’t pay.”
Ryerson’s first poker club was ratified last week by RyeSAC, creating a new group of students who enjoy friendly poker. They say they don’t play for money. Shaun Carson, Ryerson’s Residence Life Facilitator, said that he has not encountered a problem with gambling in residence, but that the university does have policies in place.
“It’s illegal, right? So it’s illegal here too,” he said. “We don’t condone it at all.”
But Carson’s door is closed by 6 p.m. so he is long gone by the time students are buying chips and calling for the flop. Many attribute poker’s new popularity to the World Series of Poker, a popular television show.
Dan said he started playing poker for money before seeing World Series. He started a bit of a poker craze early in high school, forcing his principal to ban all poker in the school.
“The teachers knew it was me,” he said laughing, adding that many students began skipping classes to take part in the Hold’Em tournaments. “It wasn’t necessarily my fault. It was going to happen anyway.”
Gambling presents an issue for the university. Students may become addicted to poker, wasting time, energy, and money. Dan doesn’t see Hold’Em as a problem hobby.
“It’s all skill. There’s a bit of luck, but not as much as other games,” he said. “It just makes it more enjoyable when you play for money. That’s the whole point. That’s why I play.”
Robert Murray, manager of the Canadian Association for Mental Health’s problem gambling program, said student gambling is a major issue for both students and institutions.
“If you have a huge preoccupation with this activity which is draining you physically, emotionally, and psychologically, it will have an effect on your education,” he said.
Murray said that the World Series of Poker, combined with the rapid growth of online gambling sites, has created a new concern for his program. “There are thousands of gambling sites now,” he said. “We’ve never, as a society, seen a generation grow up in such a gambling-saturated society.” “People have this vision that poker is so terrible. You definitely have to have some responsibility,” Dan said.
Later that Sunday, he walked away from the table where he and six others had played two small-money games of Hold’Em. He lost $10 that night. Undeterred, he went online to continue playing in an account where he has turned his initial complementary $10 credit into over $1,000 in U.S. funds. If he starts to lose online, he won’t mind, because he’s worked off the free credit.
“I can’t lose anything, because I didn’t start by putting anything on. I’m only losing potential winnings,” he said.
Regardless of all the concern, Dan considers poker a craft. He plays for fun, but his winnings are his earnings. Texas Hold’Em, he said, is like any varsity sport. “It takes five minutes to learn,” he said. “And a lifetime to master.”