Poker Faces Getting Younger

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Poker-related accessories are among this holiday season's best-sellers. And that's not surprising.

Popular TV shows such as "Celebrity Poker" have not only turned the game into a spectator sport, they have upped the ante, inspiring increasingly younger fans to play the game themselves, reports The Early Show correspondent Tracy Smith in the first of a two-part series.

She says TV poker is not only popular, it's contagious.

On a typical Saturday night, New Jersey high school freshman Reid Coopersmith and his buddies try their hands at poker hands. He tells Smith poker is "pretty huge" among his friends.

The boys model their playing after what they've seen on TV: the same game ("Texas Hold 'Em), same lingo, even the same fancy chips. "That's the only thing I asked for, for my birthday, nothing else. Just poker chips. That's all I wanted," Coopersmith says.

What's so much fun about this game?

"I guess the betting. Most likely," chuckles Coopersmith's friend, Keith Baguer. "Just knowing that in one night, you can win a lot of money and the next night you can lose a lot of money."

How much money are we talking here? "Not that much," Baguer says, laughing.

"The truth is," Smith notes, "these bets, usually 20 cents apiece, won't break anyone's piggy bank. And the boys confine their poker playing to an occasional Saturday night basement game. But some kids take it much more seriously."

Nick Joy, co-producer of the Oxford Film Co./Stone Dog Films documentary, "The Games Children Play," says TV has an effect. "The World Series (of Poker) creates superstars and kids want be like them and play with their friends. …I don't know if it's gonna create the situation later on in life where kids start gambling. (But for) now, they're gonna continue to gamble."

Part of the documentary shows video made by two high school seniors in Washington state. Parts of it show kids playing poker and dice games right in the middle of the school day.

"For most kids, gambling if they choose to engage in it will not be harmful. But for a percentage, four to six percent of kids will develop a serious gambling problem,' says Keith Whyte, who runs the National Council on Problem Gambling.

He's urging broadcasters who air poker shows to add warning labels. "You would never see a celebrity drinking tour without some very strong warning messages not to drink and drive, and that this is potentially dangerous behavior," Whyte points out.

But to many parents, poker's a safe alternative to other things kids could be doing, notes Smith.

In fact, Coopersmith got those chips he wanted, as a birthday present from his mother, Liz Perry, who says poker is just innocent fun for kids: "Totally," Perry exclaims. "Having a great time. They're …home. They're not out on the street. They're all great students great athletes and at night, this is a great way for them to hang out with each other and be with each other."

At least for now, the boys say sooner or later, the poker trend will end. Coopersmith concedes his new chips will "probably gonna go to waste in a couple years. Collect dust in my attic."

Some say poker can also help kids with math and social skills, but for many parents, such as Coopersmith's mom, the real benefit is knowing their kids and their buddies are home safe on a Saturday night.
  • Brian Dakss

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