By Natalie Aldridge
An old game is being revitalized on campuses across the nation.
Texas Hold”Em, a poker standard, is the new game of choice among college students. Many young adults began hosting tournaments after watching television shows like ESPN”s “World Series of Poker,” or the Travel Channel”s “World Poker Tour” or Bravo”s “Celebrity Poker Showdown.” Nielsen Ratings showed huge audiences last year watching the tournament play, causing Texas Hold”Em”s popularity to go through the roof.
Now impromptu games are poking up in college towns across the country.
A study by the University of Minnesota reported that among college students, 91 percent of men and 84 percent of women reported gambling during a 12-month period. Informal card games with friends, like Texas Hold”Em, are among the most popular pastimes of those who reported gambling. Forty-one percent said they played card games frequently. The regularity of card games and other forms of gambling led researchers to conclude that gambling was “a common and benign experience for most college students.”
Even college-aged adults in Provo are playing their hand at the popular card game – with a few twists.
Jason “Badger” Tieman hosts weekly Texas Hold”Em tournaments for friends at his apartment west of BYU”s campus. The rules and intensity of the game match other college-town tournaments, but that”s where the similarities end.
The lights are bright and the air is smoke-free. Kool-Aid, not alcohol, is the beverage of choice, and glory, not money, is on the line.
“We play for pride,” said Tieman, a BYU alumnus from Phoenix.
The group started playing weekly tournaments a year ago after learning how to play Texas Hold”Em from watching poker on prime-time television. Modeling their games after the pros, they spend a few hours every Tuesday pushing face cards around the table and exchanging colored clay chips. Some of the players even wear sunglasses to mask their eyes and help them maintain a poker face.
Despite the seriousness of their poker tactics, the men say they play strictly for entertainment.
“It”s always been a good time to get together with friends,” said Ben Zimmer, a BYU graduate from Port Orchard, Wash.
The poker pals use fictitious amounts, giving each clay chip a six-figure number so they can declare a “winner.”
“We like to play in millions; it makes us feel better,” Tieman said.
The monetary value doesn”t do much else for them. The players never bet “real” money on the games. Nothing of value is exchanged or traded, and debts are never accumulated. As such, the players claim the weekly gathering isn”t gambling.
“Poker is a game, and nobody is playing for money, so it”s not gambling,” said Elton Jazexhiu, a BYU graduate from Tirana, Albania, who regularly participates in the games.
Other players agreed that if nothing tangible is on the line, the game doesn”t qualify as gambling.
“As long as we don”t gamble, don”t put money in it, then I think it”s valid,” said Julian Anastasi, a BYU manufacturing engineering graduate from Tirana, Albania. “That”s where we lag behind [other colleges]; it”s just a pastime.”
Even as a popular hobby, the game is an unusual find in Provo.
Many Provo residents, including some of the players, are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church has long opposed gaming as morally unwise and politically wrong. A 1987 statement from the First Presidency of the church said gambling is wrong because of its moral ramifications.
“[Members] should not participate in any way, and they should encourage others, especially their family members, not to participate,” the statement said.
Because of BYU”s religious affiliation with the LDS church, students are expected to adhere to church standards and beliefs. Current students as well as non-students living in BYU-approved housing adhere to the university”s own code of conduct. The Honor Code”s stance on gambling is clear-cut.
“The principle is that gambling is definitely – definitely – discouraged in the honor program,” said Steve Baker, director of the Honor Code Office.
Since it is impractical for the office to examine every game or form of entertainment, Baker said involvement in any form of gambling would be examined, if reported, on a case-by-case basis.
“Gambling is not appropriate,” he said. “But we do have confidence that students will use good judgment in deciding which games are specifically appropriate for them.”
For Tieman and his poker pals, Texas Hold”Em is harmless good time. The group consensus reasons since nothing of value is exchanged or traded, the game isn”t really gambling – it”s just hanging out with friends.
“It”s a fun game,” Jazexhiu said. “It”s better than Monopoly.”