When Jeremy Tole wants to find a game of poker, he has a lot of outs.
First, he’ll look in his cell phone for acquaintances who play. He’ll also go to Facebook, the online directory for university communities, where there’s a “Kirkwood College Poker Club” group.
In all, there are between 50 to 75 people that Tole, an 18-year-old Kirkwood Community College student, can contact to get a poker game going on any given night in Iowa City.
“All but one of my guy friends play poker,” said Tole, who plays four times a week.
Tole and his buddies are far from alone in their enthusiasm for gambling.
About 2.9 million people between the ages of 14 and 22 gamble on cards on a weekly basis, according to a September 2005 survey by The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. The monthly gambling rate for that age group jumped 20 percent between 2004 and 2005.
The overwhelming majority, 80 percent, are male, and gambling rates are higher among youth who attend school. About 50 percent of college males gamble on cards monthly, according to the survey.
Poker and online gambling in particular have exploded in popularity in the past several years. A big reason for that, experts say, are the million-dollar poker tournaments broadcast on television and the availability of Internet gambling.
“With ESPN showing the ‘World Series (of Poker),’ you see them make $2 million, and they’re just playing cards,” said Jesse Bockelman, 22, a senior at UI.
Bockelman’s stakes are generally much smaller. When he has the money, he plays Internet poker about two hours a night.
He sticks to $2 or $3 tables, but he’s won as much as $400 and lost as much as $250 on a single hand. He’s also played in an online tournament against 10,000 people.
A byproduct of this increased popularity is more young people developing gambling problems. Sam Cochran, director of the UI Counseling Service, said 20 years ago it was rare to get a case of gambling addiction, but now about a dozen students come in each year.
“And that’s probably the tip of the iceberg because there’s so much shame involved with getting in such a hole” that many students don’t come in for help, he said.
Dr. Donald Black is a UI psychiatry professor who conducts gambling treatment studies. He said his first trial several years ago had no college-age students. But in recent studies, about one-third of his patients have been college students, most of whom play poker or gamble online.
“Younger kids who gamble, they generally are attracted by the excitement of the game,” Black said.
Almost all Internet Agen Bola gambling sites are based outside the United States because online gambling is illegal here. For live games to be legal in Iowa, a person cannot win or lose more than $50 dollars in a 24-hour period and all the participants must know each other.
Policing such activity is almost impossible, said David Werning, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, which licenses social and charitable gambling.
“There’s no way really to track stuff,” he said. “Most of the referrals we do for investigations come as the result of complaints (from people who lost money in a game).”
The same holds true at UI. There is no computer-use policy specifically for gambling, though it is against rules to use a UI or on-campus computer for illegal activity. The residence hall guidebook prohibits illegal gambling.
Tole, however, said he plays a regular game in Currier Residence Hall with a $20 buy-in and an average of 10 players. The winner typically gets at least $125, he said.
UI officials said they were unaware of a student being severely punished for on-campus gambling.
“This is an area of potential abuse that is more underground than not,” said Phillip Jones, UI’s vice president for student services.
Chris Macias, a 25-year-old senior at UI, said when he started school he and a few buddies had poker night every Monday.
Now, he generally saves his gambling for Las Vegas, where he goes several times a year, including twice this month. But if he wanted to, he could play in Iowa City every night of the week, and he would probably know only half the people in the game, he said.
“Basically, you just need to find that one person who’s into it too,” Macias said. “And then they find one person. And they find one person.”