'The New American Dream'
Poker has soared in popularity because, unlike other sports, the average guy sitting in front of his TV set figures he can win the World Series of Poker, a champion player said Thursday. Professional poker player and television commentator Howard Lederer said the charm of poker is that "people at home believe they can be part of it. Anyone can win. Occasionally you get a guy who has a lucky run." Lederer was the keynote speaker Thursday at the 13th International Conference of Gambling and Risk Taking at Harrah's Lake Tahoe. He also participated in a panel discussion on the future of poker.
Nicknamed "The Professor" for his serious style of play and the way he calculates his chances of winning a hand, Lederer has won two World Series of Poker bracelets. He hosts the Fox Sport Network's "Learn from the Pros" show. His sister, Annie Duke, is one of the world's top female players.
He and others credited TV broadcasts of tournaments on ESPN and other networks for the surge in poker popularity in the past five years. They also predicted continued growth in the game's popularity as more and more women begin to play and the game is exported around the world through televised tournaments.
"Poker is the new American dream for 20- to 30-year-old men," said Jeffrey Pollack, Harrah's vice president of sports and entertainment marketing. "I can go play against Howard Lederer. You can get off the couch and play for life-changing money."
Pollack credited the victory by amateur player Chris Moneymaker in the 2003 World Series of Poker for helping spread the fantasy that anyone can win at poker. Moneymaker, an accountant, parlayed the $39 he paid to enter an online tournament into the $2.5 million grand prize.
Until its emergence on television, poker was considered a game for the "pretty old, pretty male and not as much teeth as you want," said Steve Lipscomb, producer of the televised World Poker Tour.
"It was the black sheep of the family who was the poker player," he said. "Now the poker players are the coolest, hippest guys at the cocktail party."
Their praises of poker, however, were challenged by Arnie Wexler, who runs a hotline for problem young gamblers in New Jersey.
Wexler said that one-third of the calls he receives are from underage players addicted to poker.
"The kids think they all can be professional poker players," added Wexler, who called for television to start empathizing the potential problems of poker playing.
Lederer maintained it would hard to become a compulsive poker player "based on the skill element. It is a skill-based game."
"You have the skills," Wexler told Lederer. "They think they have the skills."