A card game that is estimated to be almost two centuries old, poker went out of style in the mainstream decades ago after it came to be seen as crude, old-fashioned, and slow-paced (especially in comparison to other games like blackjack and roulette). Now, thanks to some innovative TV camera angles, masterful marketing, and a relatively new form of the game called Texas Hold ‘Em, poker is back and taking over high school and college campuses.
This explosion of interest in the card game was initially fueled by TV poker tournaments. TV poker is not a new phenomenon, but Steve Lipscomb (now the chief executive of World Poker Tour Enterprises, Inc.) realized that the poker shows hadn’t gained much popularity because viewers seldom got to see players’ hands. Lipscomb placed cameras along the rims of the game tables for his poker series so that, between the shared cards that are played in Texas Hold ‘Em-style poker and the cards each individual player held (“hole cards”), all cards were visible to the TV viewers so they could strategize and “play along” with the professionals much the same way people do with contestants on popular game shows “Jeopardy” or “Wheel of Fortune.”
“I used to watch ‘World Series of Poker’ and ‘Celebrity Poker Showdown’ a lot. After a while I stopped watching TV poker, but I play a lot now,” says Alex Telleria, 18. Telleria has been playing poker with friends about twice a week since early August and claims to have won himself upwards of $500 since then. “The most I’ve ever won in a night is $87.00, and the most I’ve ever lost is $20.00,” he claims.
Kick-started by such televised tournaments, poker’s popularity has spread to casinos (where poker had long been among the least popular games), the Internet, private homes and college campuses. With interest in the game spreading so rapidly among young people, there is concern that gambling addictions will become a serious problem for this generation.
According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, younger gamblers are more likely to develop addictions; 6 to 12% of 18 to 20-year-olds are already addicted. That is why the Council has gotten ESPN to run ads warning viewers of the threat of problem gambling, and has pressured “World Poker Tour” to do the same. A spokesperson from Discovery Communications (which owns the Travel Channel) said such ads will air in the series’ next championship, according to a recent Washington Post report.