Instead of working in the cafeteria or waiting tables for extra income, some students are turning to online poker for cash.

Jess Cox
Students forego traditional gambling to log onto online poker sites. Some routinely wager thousands of dollars. (EMMA NOLAN-ABRAHAMIAN)

Business School senior Brad Rosenwasser started playing poker online his sophomore year.

Over the last two years, he estimates that he’s won roughly $20,000 playing poker online. Rosenwasser started his online gambling career by buying a few how-to books and making a relatively small investment online. He said after that initial investment, he’s never had to buy back in.

“Honestly, anyone who’s smart enough to go to U of M could make money playing poker,” Rosenwasser said.

If Rosenwasser is making money, though, someone else must be losing.

“It’s a logical impossibility that most people are winning,” said Keith White, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. “For most people, the longer they gamble, the more likely they are to end up with nothing. It’s not 50-50 odds.”

The popularity of online poker has fueled concerns that an increasing number of young people are addicted to gambling.

According to a study conducted by the Annenberg Center last year, more than 600,000 people ages 18 to 24 have gambled within the last week, up from five years ago.

Last year, televised poker tournaments, including reruns, were even more popular than live NBA coverage, said Rich Luker, president of Leisure Intelligence Group and a kinesiology professor.

Luker said the glamorization of poker on TV has contributed to the increase in the number of young players.

LSA junior Will Reese said after he played in a tournament in Las Vegas, winning about $5,000 in one sitting, he was hooked.

“I was doing pretty badly in school because I was playing so much,” Reese said.

Although his long-term financial prospects may have been in danger, he was doing well in the short term.

Once, Reese said, he won $19,000 in two weeks.

Reese said although he often had exceptional winning streaks, most of the people he knows who play poker regularly usually make money.

But this may be an illusion, says a recovering compulsive gambler, who wished to not be identified because he didn’t want potential employers to learn about his gambling problem.

The recovering gambler said he and other gamblers he knew only talked about what they were winning and avoided mentioning any losses.

He said he knew several University students who developed serious problems as a result of online poker sites.

“They’ve blown their tuition, student loans and emergency loans,” he said. “If you think you’re going to retire as a millionaire at age 25 or younger, you’re wrong.”

Reese is also a member of Gamblers Anonymous.

He enrolled in the group when he started losing the money he won playing craps and blackjack.

He said that despite winning nearly $65,000 on poker over the last few years, he decided that gambling couldn’t be a lucrative career.

Reese is currently studying to be a Spanish interpreter.

Rosenwasser said that although his dream is to be a professional poker player, he has resigned himself to playing poker only when he needs a little extra cash.

The constant availability and speed of online poker has greatly increased its popularity, White said.

Luker said it’s unlikely the poker craze will continue to grow.

“It peaked,” Luker said. “It’s not that people don’t like it, it’s that everyone who’s coming in is in.”

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