Poker craze officially hits U with birth of new student group

A student founded “Campus Poker Night” in early October to teach students the game.

Andy Mannix

In the past few years, escalating poker popularity has made names like Phil Hellmuth and Chris Moneymaker as common as baseball legends in some households.

The game escaped the confines of mere casino play, and made its way to the Internet, multiple television channels, the neighborhood bar and now to the University – officially.

In early October, chemical engineering senior Kristian Lovato founded “Campus Poker Night,” a group dedicated to teaching students the game of poker.

The idea came to him after receiving a class assignment to create a project that would better the student community. When he discovered the University did not have a poker club already, Lovato decided it would fit the assignment nicely, he said.

“I felt that this would give a good opportunity for those people that might be a little too shy to go into a casino and risk huge sums of money,” Lovato said.

The group will also allow students who already know the game to play together in a comfortable setting, Lovato said.

Campus Poker Night will have its first meeting on Nov. 30 in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building. Interested students have already contacted Lovato and he said he is anticipating a turnout of around 15 to 20 people.

The group won’t play with real money, but the first and second place winners of the tournament will be awarded prizes paid for by a $100 Coca-Cola Campus Life Grant the group received through the University’s Student Unions and Activities office, Lovato said.

Although Campus Poker Night is only one month old, poker-playing among college students has been popular for years.

Jerry Fuller, vice president of card club operations at Canterbury Park with nearly 40 years experience in the industry, has seen the primary poker demographic transform from 40- to 60-year-olds to 18- to 30-year-olds and almost double in popularity since the “World Poker Tour” became popular on the Travel Channel in 2003, he said.

“It became kind of a cool thing to do,” Fuller said. “The game itself is pretty interesting.”

Fuller said the student attraction to poker might stem from the intelligence it requires and, of course, the money involved.

“You can make a lot of money playing poker,” Fuller said. “You have to be pretty good or pretty lucky to make the big money, but it’s there.”

Fuller said throughout his career, he has known students that have paid for college with poker winnings.

University alumnus Dustin Sirny began playing poker in 2003 and soon found himself playing every day, he said.

“It took me about a year to get good at it,” Sirny said. “I was playing on a couple of different sites, and once Partypoker got huge, there was a bunch of idiots playing on it so it wasn’t too hard to make quite a bit of money.”

In his peak of playing, Sirny said he had made around $10,000.

Lovato said he has been playing poker for five years. In that time, he was able to make more money than he has lost, which he attributes to skill rather than luck, he said.

“If you play it correctly, in the long run, I don’t really consider it gambling,” he said.

However, Ken Winters, contributor to the book “Gambling and the College Student” and psychiatry professor at the University, said student gambling can be dangerous.

While many students have no difficulty gambling within a sensible budget, some are easily susceptible to spiraling downward into addiction and debt, Winters said.

Because Campus Poker Night does not use real money, Winters said it probably could not be held solely responsible for public health issues such as gambling addiction.

However, a group teaching poker to students, especially one receiving funding through the University, should also teach limits and address the potential downside of the game, Winters said.

“It’s not necessarily a harmless activity for everybody, learning how to play cards,” Winters said. “There is a certain percent that get in trouble with it.”

Lovato said the purpose of the group is not to encourage gambling, but to promote the game of poker itself.

“Gophers After Dark has a casino night where they set up blackjack tables and roulette tables and craps tables and people are drinking fake alcohol drinks,” Lovato said. “To me, that seems like its promoting gambling and getting drunk a lot more than what I’m doing.”