Monday, November 29, 2004

CHICAGO (AP) — Now that his high-school football season is over, Zak Coppinger has been playing poker every chance he can get.

With his mom’s blessing, he’s turned the family dining room into a poker parlor for himself and his buddies, complete with green walls and a chandelier. He also keeps a deck of cards at school so he can play impromptu games during class or lunch.

“It’s better than homework, I can tell you that,” the 18-year-old from Austin, Texas, says with a chuckle.

He’s just one of the many young people who have become avid players of Texas Hold ‘em and other poker games — a trend sparked, in part, by TV shows that feature tournaments for celebrities and professional poker players. But gambling opponents wonder whether some teens, and the adults who let them play, are taking it too far.

“It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s glamorized on TV and in the media in a way that other addictions are not,” said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. “There’s the impression that through skill, you can beat the odds. But randomness is always going to have a bigger factor in determining the outcome than your skill.

“And unfortunately, that’s not the message these kids get.”

Some parents have heeded the warning, cutting back on casino nights at after-prom parties and other events. And officials at a growing number of schools — from New Trier Township High School, north of Chicago, to Apple Valley High School in suburban Minneapolis — have started banning poker playing on their campuses.

Dave Smiley, principal at Elgin High School in suburban Chicago, began enforcing an old ban on card and dice games months ago.

“We’re like church — you shouldn’t be gambling in school,” he said.

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