Column: The strangle of online poker

By Billy Joe Mills

Can you imagine the amount of work I can get done in the time I waste playing poker?” asked Kevin Sukerski, a graduate student. “When I’m not playing, I research the electromagnetic effects on steel flow in a continuous casting mold.”

Poker, specifically no-limit Texas hold ’em, has gripped the subconscious minds of thousands of college students. Some students have been forced to drop out of school, but more often the game can simply dominate life.

Sukerski has been playing online poker for more than a year. He lost about $600 the first few times he deposited money into Golden Palace Poker. Despite those losses he chose to keep playing.

“I know I’m better than the people I play against online. With the knowledge and the skill I have, I shouldn’t lose,” Sukerski said.

Finally he began winning. As he won more he increased his stakes. He began playing $.50/$1 blinds and eventually played $10/$20 blinds where each pot averages $300. At the height of his activity, which lasted for months, he would play at least four hours per day.

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    The loss of $3000 compelled Sukerski to withdraw the remainder of his winnings.

    “I couldn’t handle the swings,” Sukerski said. “I would go from four grand to 800 dollars. They’re too huge. I don’t know. I just couldn’t deal with it. When I lost money I felt like I had to get it back. That was the worst part. It’s too much money when you don’t have that much in the bank to replace it with.”

    He also recognized another type of loss.

    “It has the feeling of wasted time. Even when you win sometimes it feels like a waste. You can spend four hours making $50. If it’s $1000 then it’s worth it. I think it’s an easy way to make money, or it should be. But it’s not,” Sukerski said.

    Sukerski, who had a 3.9 GPA as an undergraduate in Mechanical Engineering, described online poker as surreal because of its electronic format.

    “You don’t realize what you’re playing with. It’s more difficult to see money being taken away from you if it’s in dollar form than if it’s just a number on a screen,” he said.

    Violent emotional reactions, also known as “tilt,” often accompany online poker,

    “When you lose you get angry and start punching your door and lose more money replacing your door. If I win I eat something and watch more poker on TV,” Sukerski said.

    Now a bill that would crack down on Internet gambling has passed the House with a 317-93 vote and awaits Senate approval. The bill raises the larger question of whether the government should extend its tentacles to prevent consenting adults from forming electronic gambling contracts in order to protect us from ourselves.

    While online gambling is unquestionably addictive, it is unclear whether we should allow our government to raid yet another realm of personal activity.

    Since withdrawing his net winnings of $5000, Sukerski has re-deposited small amounts of money,

    “Sometimes I play, but I don’t know why,” he said. “It’s not for money, I just want to see cards. I don’t know why I can’t stop.”