Web Exclusives: From the P-Nut Gallery
a column by Nate Sellwyn nsellyn@princeton.edu

April 7, 2004:

Knowing when to fold ’em
P-Nut’s take on college gambling

Can a card game be a sport? No? Well, poker’s a sport, bucko, at least according to the media. Don’t think so? It gets more coverage on ESPN than hockey. Or cricket. Or just about anything that’s not basketball, baseball, football, or cheerleading.

Not only does it get more coverage, but it’s played by more Tigers. Recently, the Daily Princetonian ran an article on the amount of poker played on campus. It spoke in shocked tones of a game in “which players regularly lost upwards of $500” and how “gambling easily takes over the lives of many players.” Of course – like many a hyperbolic Princetonian expose – the article was in no way news to the undergraduate student body. Since the release of the film Rounders in 1998, poker has steadily grown in popularity among college-age kids. A bundle of recent television programs devoted to tournament poker coverage have only served to accelerate this trend. Poker is hot right now, especially at college.

Of course, some groups are less than thrilled about this. By “some groups” I mean the University administration, and by “less than thrilled” I mean seriously upset. Citing poker as addictive and often illegal, West College has taken a serious stand against the game. The Princetonian article quotes Associate Dean Hilary Herbold as saying, “If I learned that a student was gambling on the Internet, he or she would face disciplinary action, and I, or a residential college dean, would also work with the student to determine, through a counseling evaluation, whether he or she needed treatment for compulsive gambling.” Yikes. Evidence definitely sits in the Dean’s corner, though, as 18- to 24-year-olds are proven to have some of the highest rates of gambling addictions. Even some of the eating clubs are jumping on the antipoker bandwagon. After a meeting with Herbold, several of the clubs – including Tower, previously notorious as a home for big-money games – changed their policy on poker games to forbid the exchange of money. If the administration has its way, poker will halt its emergence and return to the college underground.

What does the P-Nut think? Well, I won’t comment on my own poker experience, since you can never tell who might be reading, but I’ll say this: Is this really what the administration is focusing on right now? The biggest problem on campus is… high-stakes card games? Oh my goodness! I mean, if you’re smart enough to be here, you should know not to enter a game you can’t afford to lose. Yes, some kids will get burned, and that’s obviously an issue. But not a huge one. Poker gets people together in groups for long periods of time. It uses more brains than a video game. It kills fewer brain cells than drinking. It involves active participation from all parties present. What more does the administration want from an activity? Something that involves actual learning? The P-Nut thinks what’s needed is a backdown from the crackdown. Or else someone will get the smackdown.

Speaking of college gambling, I bet no one made a fuss about undergraduates filling out N.C.A.A. brackets. I lost in glamorous fashion, picking three of the Final Four squads. The one I was missing was, of course, UConn. Thus I finished second in every single one of my pools. Just the P-Nut’s luck.

Why didn’t I go with the Huskies? I didn’t think Emeka Okafor was healthy. Once he was, though, it was a cakewalk for him, Ben Gordon, and their hairless friend Charlie Villanueva, as it should have been. The impact one dominant big man can have on the floor these days is ridiculous. There have been articles everywhere recently praising the college game, describing how – despite the best talent going straight to the N.B.A. – the collegiate game has never looked better. The P-Nut says: Come on. This was a lackluster tournament. No one can tell me it would not have been a HUNDRED times better to see Syracuse sophomore Carmelo Anthony facing off against Ohio State freshman LeBron James in the final. Instead, we were forced to watch a blowout, highlighted only by Okafor educating a red-haired kid from Australia on the finer points of “getting out of my house.”

Not that I didn’t pick Georgia Tech to win the title – I did, four weeks ago. Speaking of month long periods, that’s about how much time I have before my last column runs in this space. Now, I’ve obviously got my closing piece prepared, but there’s still time between now and then. Anything you’d like to see me write before I pass through the gates? E-mail me. I know – thanks to an e-mail from some Idaho middle schoolers – that someone’s reading this stuff.


You can reach Nate at nsellyn@Princeton.EDU