In years past, college students have embraced fads ranging from goldfish swallowing to phone booth cramming. Today, poker appears to be the rage.
On college campuses across the country, poker games are being formed in dorm rooms, fraternity and sorority houses, and in campus recreation centers.
"It is crazy on campus," said Rachel Dorfman, a sophomore at Georgia University. "It is absolutely the thing to do right now."
Dorfman, who also enjoys playing poker online, said all her friends watch poker on TV. As far as gambling, she says she plays with dime chips (10Â¡ chips, as opposed to Vegas’ dime chips, which are worth $1,000 apiece!), while losing just a few dollars at the most. She admits, however, that other games often involve higher stakes.
Poker’s popularity has been fueled at least in part by television shows such as the Travel Channel’s "World Poker Tour," Bravo’s "Celebrity Poker," as well as other shows on ESPN and Fox Sports Network.
The creators of the World Poker Tour, which lands in Las Vegas later this month for the Bellagio Five Star Tournament, say a poker competition between colleges, with scholarship money and other prizes, is in development.
The influence of the Internet is also evident in poker’s popularity with students, who learn to hone their poker faces by playing in online poker tournaments, like the one that led to last year’s World Series of Poker champion.
Some online poker websites actually target students with tournaments such as the first College PokerChampionships.com, which began free satellite tournaments earlier this year. Prizes range from $500 to $50,000 scholarships, as well as cash winnings for charities of their choice.
Even though there’s the danger of promoting gambling, some colleges actually sponsor poker tournaments for their students.
In New York, for instance, the turnout at Binghamton University’s free poker tournaments exceeded expectations, with up to 260 players in a recent one. A last minute Valentine’s Day tourney drew 150 players.
Some colleges sponsor buy-in games for a minimal amount ($10 to $25), with prizes ranging from cash to television sets.
As one would expect, anti-gambling groups have expressed concern over the possibility of students becoming addicted to gambling.
But the founder of the World Poker Tour, Steve Lipscomb, says there are worse evils on campus than college students playing poker.