Experts: Poker becoming a big mainstream activity |

Experts: Poker becoming a big mainstream activity

Brendan Riley
Jim Grant/Tahoe Daily Tribune file / Harveys Resort Casino was the fourth stop on the 2005 World Series of Poker Circuit.

STATELINE (AP) – A “perfect storm” of favorable conditions has put poker on a path to be a mainstream event on the level of NBA games and NASCAR races, experts told a gambling conference Thursday.

Televised poker shows, which let viewers see players’ cards, and Internet gambling have given top poker players rock-star status and created a huge crowd of new players and fans, two-time World Series of Poker champion Howard Lederer and others said.

Even a move in Congress to crack down on Internet gambling won’t cut into poker’s growing popularity because newcomers could still hone their skills on many play-for-fun Internet sites, the experts said at the 13th International Conference on Gambling and Risk-Taking.

Lederer, World Series of Poker commissioner Jeffrey Pollack and Steve Lipscomb, creator of the World Poker Tour, likened the poker boom to gradual changes in televised NBA coverage from tape-delayed to live, prime-time games, and to the growth in NASCAR audiences from mainly southerners to fans throughout the nation.

Lipscomb said offbeat personalities of some top card players have fueled poker’s rise, adding they’re “some of the most compelling, interesting characters you could ever imagine” – and no longer seen as embarrassing “black sheep” by their families.

Lederer said “mainstreaming is just starting” for poker, and Pollack added that once the game peaks in popularity “you institutionalize yourself on the landscape” and it can maintain a big audience – and advertisers – whether television ratings are up or down.

Asked about potential problems for compulsive gamblers drawn to poker, Lederer said it’s different than blackjack or craps because of the skill level required – in knowing the cards, using psychology to gauge others at the table and maintaining self-discipline needed to stay in the game.

Arnie Wexler, a compulsive gambling counselor who runs a national hot line, said he has been around gambling for decades and in the case of poker had “never seen an explosion like this.” He urged poker promoters to caution new players about possible pitfalls.

Lederer said his advice is for anyone who gets into poker and thinks they’re pretty good to “keep their day job” for at least another year and then take a close look at their win-loss column from poker.

Asked about the potential for scandal, such as cheating or collusion among players, Lipscomb said big tournaments held in licensed casinos are highly controlled. Besides security guards, he said a skilled poker player “is the best hall monitor” you could have.

Lederer added that if online money games were legalized, there are methods to keep such games clean and seize funds if a problem was detected. He also said there’s developing technology to ensure the identity of players and exclude minors.

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