Poker has come a long way since the days of being the catalyst for a drunken-cowboy saloon shootout.
Today poker games are found every night in bars, basements and living rooms across the nation. The growing popularity for the game also has created the path for the emergence of a multi-billion dollar industry… online poker.
Each year, online poker pulls in a revenue of well over $10 billion, or 50 percent of the estimated insured losses from Hurricane Katrina. Considering a majority of online poker sites offer free games, there are more than 200 cash game sites responsible for producing this impressive sum, according to pokerpulse.com, an industry tracking Web site
While traditional face-to-face poker still has its attributes, online poker has become popular due to many elements it offers its clients.
For one, online poker players can play at any time of day from any location with Internet access.
"It's perfect for when you don't want to be waiting on five kids to show up for a game," said Dan Erskine, a junior business major. "The convenience of it all makes it attractive to all poker players."
Erskine represents one of the many people who have found online poker to be much more than just a hobby or even addiction; it has become his sole occupation.
"Let's put it this way; I haven't had a job since I've been in college," Erskine said. "Online poker is strickly business to me. I typically make a couple thousand dollars each month, which is enough to support me. I'd like to retire off of my poker winnings someday."
Although online gambling is considered illegal, poker games are hosted in other countries to avoid United States law. Over 1.8 million people play online poker each month, spending around $200 million each day, according to an article by Sports Illustrated.
Another attribute of online poker is its ability to provide quick, multiple hands. Players can simultaneously participate in several games, which increases their potential for winning, or losing, depending on how you look at it. Some poker fanatics will play up to ten hands at the same time for hours straight.
Those who are willing to donate that amount of time and dedication to online poker often become very skilled in the trade. Online poker, particularly the free games, is an excellent place for amateurs to fine-tune their bluffing ability and for rookies to learn the ways of the game.
"(Online poker) is perfect for teaching you the odds and strategies to win," said Matt Smith, a junior business major. "People who aren't very good get played at the cash game sites so it's best to know what you're doing before you get too involved."
Due to the heavy frequency and duration of online poker games, concerns have risen about possible gambling addictions among high school and college-aged students. While casinos require its gamblers to be 21 years old, online gambling only requires its clients to be 18.
Much to the chagrin of their social lives, many students are opting to spend their evenings online playing poker rather than doing something more constructive like homework or bringing home an ethically challenged freshman from Suite 152. (*What do we think about this?)
"I could spend ten bucks at the movies and thirty bucks at the bar, or just ten bucks at online poker and make it last three hours," Smith said. "Plus, I have a pretty good chance at actually winning fifty dollars for not going out."
But it's not just the social implications causing opponents of online poker to roll their eyes. Academics may also be on the chopping block due to students missing class to play online poker. Some students try to combine their education and online gambling by playing poker in class on their laptops but those who lack wireless technology choose to remain at home with their eyes fixed on the screen.
"I probably miss four or five classes each week playing poker," Erskine said. "I see people in class playing all the time and I get jealous."
Other people fail to see the appeal of online poker because of its inability to offer the same setting as traditional poker games filled with cigars, imported beer, poker chips and angry girlfriends.
"Half the fun of poker is getting together with your boys and just relaxing," said Ryan Brewer, a senior political science major. "Plus, you can't read the other players with online poker. I can think of plenty of other things to do with my time."
No matter where you stand on online poker, the fact remains that in the time it took you to read this, thousands of dollars were made by hundreds of Web sites.
While poker was thought to be a passing fad, the current popularity and lucrative nature of the industry proves it will be around for a while, attracting new clients everyday.
"It's like a drug in a way because it's a self-control game," Erskine said. "You can always fold but you're also just a click away from going all-in."