Playing poker is not illegal, but gambling on state property can get you in trouble
It's Thursday night and a you and a group of friends decide to play a game of poker with a $10 buy-in.
A knock on the door interrupts play, and it appears another person has decided to join the game-a police officer.
Playing poker for money is considered gambling in the state of Illinois.
In December, the Chicago Police Department started cracking down on home poker games. Chicago police sent undercover agents into games, and issued fines up to $200 and a court appearance. The people busted go in for their court appearance this month.
DeKalb Police Chief Bill Feithen is well aware of the growing popularity of poker.
However, this has not resulted in an increase in complaints about people holding home poker games.
Feithen said if the department receives a call or tip about a game, they will investigate it, and possibly go undercover.
"It has not reached us yet," Feithen said. "I could probably count on one hand the times that has happened (referring to people being busted for gambling within the city)."
Some complaints Feithen has heard are from people who lost.
"Usually from someone who was upset at the amount they lost," Feithen said. "More often it is from family members of people who lost money."
One student was shocked to hear that police in Chicago were issuing fines.
"I think it's ridiculous," said Alexander Anderson, a senior special education major. "Nobody is really secretive about playing. I don't think it's a risk, it's poker for God's sake. So many people do it, it's a part of college culture."
Anderson said some games he has participated in, usually with a $20 buy-in, sometimes last seven or eight hours.
"Even if I lose, it's worth it," Anderson said.
Hustling the Huskies
Playing poker on the NIU campus is not illegal, but gambling on state property is.
"It is against university policy," said Larry Bolles, director of the University Judicial Office. "Even if the student is 21, they can't (gamble) on university property."
While poker has grown in popularity on campus and nationwide, the judicial office has not seen an increase in gambling incidents on campus.
Bolles said his office has seen two cases in the last five years of students being busted for gambling on university property.
"We have had some small groups on campus and they have been busted," Bolles said. "It sounds to me like a lot of people off campus are having (poker) parties. House games seem to be the hot thing."
Willard Draper, director of residential life, said in the past residence halls have held casino nights, but usually gambling in the halls is not tolerated.
"Our concern is not poker, it is gambling," Draper said. "It has not come to our attention as being a problem in the residence halls. I'm not saying I recommend it (playing poker), but it is legal to play poker, and it is illegal to gamble. I do know there are a number of people playing poker, they just cannot gamble."
Since April 2004, gambling has been a part of a complaint three times, according to NIU police Sergeant Todd Henert.
"I think there are people out there that do not realize what they are doing is illegal," Henert said. "It is one of the many things we have our eyes on and are paying attention to. Our whole goal is to make this a safe place to live, work and go to school at."
In April 2004, NIU police found business cards advertising Texas Hold 'em poker on a Web site, and the student was referred to the judicial office.
In December 2004, NIU police received a complaint about eight students gambling in a residence hall lounge. Upon inspection, no one was found in the room, but it did happen to be on the same floor as the student who was referred to judicial in April 2004.
The third complaint, received anonymously through the NIU Tip Line, was found to be unfounded after investigation.
"The big concern is that students are here to get an education and they lose money gambling," Henert said. They need the money to live on, and the potential is other residents becoming victims of thefts and burglaries."
Sophomore journalism major Ben Willis posted an ad on a Web site over a year ago looking for people interested in playing poker in DeKalb area. Willis said he still gets responses to the advertisement.
The Web site features ads from people throughout the country looking for games. A search through the site netted over 80 pages of ads for the state of Illinois alone.
Willis started playing poker while in high school with a group of friends. Then, buy-in was $5.
"Now I buy in with $20 to start, and can always buy more," Willis said. "The pot averages usually $200 to $300 on an average night."
Unlike some groups, Willis never collects a "rake," money that does not go into the jackpot but into the game organizer's pocket.
Even though most people who play do not go overboard on spending, it has happened before, Willis said.
"I have seen people reach into their pocket for $100 or more," Willis said. "It's not etiquette to say anything, as long as they are not being a jerk."
The groups, for the most part, are also friendly and laid back, but not always.
"I had two people take it outside over a $20 game, which I think is real funny," Willis said.
Poker hands go bust in local high schools
Last October, New Trier High School, Winnetka campus instituted a ban on card playing on campus after seeing an increase in the number of students gambling on campus.
While there has been an increase in the number of games at some Chicago suburban schools, there has not been an increase in card playing at DeKalb or Sycamore High School.
Larry Stinson, DeKalb High School principal, said he has seen incidents of students playing poker "very rarely."
"It may happen at lunch, but if we see it we ask them to stop," Stinson said. "Hopefully they are getting an education, and not in gambling."
At Sycamore High School, the student handbook states card playing is not allowed.
"We have a strong policy against gambling," said Kreg Wesley, SHS assistant principal. "I am not sure how it would shake out because it has never happened."
Although Wesley has not seen gambling on campus, he does know the popularity of poker is on the rise.
"I hear students talking about ESPN's coverage of the World Series of Poker," Wesley said. "But I have not heard of any games off campus either."
Poker: a gateway to disaster?
Bolles, Feithen and Henert were in agreement on gambling being very dangerous to the community as a whole.
"A lot of people look at it as entertainment," Feithen said. "But there are people losing their homes, taking out loans, spending their children's food money."
Henert said poker could potentially be a gateway to other problems.
"It is the slippery slope," Henert said. "You start out with a $5 or a $10 bet, next thing you know you are betting the rent money or book money."
Bolles said he was concerned with the way the media portrays poker on television.
"It is one thing to show the glamorous side, but it's not fair they don't show the other side-they don't show you that the house wins 70 percent of the time," Bolles said. "Gambling is addictive, and most folks don't think they can be addicted to gambling. Gambling is not an easy thing to walk away from."