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Jumping the Poker Shark?

Although I'm making more money than I have ever earned before as a poker writer and poker player, I often question whether or not poker has gotten too big. When I first met one of my ex-girlfriends three years ago, she frowned upon the fact that I frequently played poker in underground card rooms in New York City. She seemed visibly annoyed when I took side trips to Foxwoods Casino or road trips down to the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. She wasn't thrilled with the notion of me gambling with degenerates and lowlifes, even though I told her I was making more money playing cards than as a freelance writer. After she caught a few episodes of Celebrity Poker Showdown, her attitude quickly changed.

My mother wasn't very happy to discover that I played online for several months to supplement my income. That was until she found out that I paid for a brand new laptop with my winnings. She also quickly changed her attitude after my big score which coincided with a weekend marathon of Celebrity Poker showdown.

Televised poker has changed a lot of people's perception of poker. From my ex-girlfriend to my mother, they went from having a disdainful attitude to openly embracing poker. My mother became so intrigued that she wanted to watch me play online during any big tournaments, while my ex-girlfriend wanted me to teach all her friends how to play so she could start a weekly home game. Poker used to be gritty, dark, and part of the outlaw nature, but now it has become popular culture. You cannot turn on TV these days without seeing some sort of poker programming.

These days, everyone seems to be playing poker, even celebrities. Actress Jennifer Tilly won a World Series of Poker Bracelet in the Ladies Event a few weeks ago. Other actors such as James Woods, Tobey Maguire, Wil Wheaton, Mimi Rogers, and Shannon Elizabeth bought in to this year's main event at the World Series of Poker. Even Yevgeny Kafelnikov caught the poker bug. The Russian ex-tennis pro decided to turn to poker after he retired from tennis. He played in several WSOP events already this year and missed a final table by one spot.

Online poker is becoming more and more popular everyday. Various online sites have been aggressively advertising on television, radio, and the internet. For many Americans who do not have access to casinos or card rooms, online sites are a viable alternative. However, the easy access to online sites poses several problems. First, the legality issue comes into play. Technically, it is illegal in all states to gamble online. Secondly, poker is still considered gambling. For people with addictive personalities, having instant availability to an expensive vice like online gambling can destroy one's credit and leave them broke in the process. Advertisers are targeting a younger audience which presents another problem with underage juveniles becoming addicted to online poker. These are the kids who grew up in the video game generation and they quickly adapt to online poker.

Where as online poker can help a beginning player gain valuable experience much more quickly by playing more hands in a shorter span of time, it can be a deceptive source of income. Many college students are choosing to drop out of school in favor of pursuing a career as a professional online poker player. They have been enticed to play poker full time by the celebrity status now accorded professional poker players. Professional poker is a dangerous profession to undertake. There are no health benefits and the fluctuations in one's bankroll can be a mental roller coaster that drains most players. Plus, there is no guarantee that you will get paid, ever. Just imagine going to work everyday for two weeks and come payday instead of a receiving a check, you owe money.

Poker has gone mainstream because it offers up more aspects of the "American Dream" than the majority of other occupations and enterprises. It's exciting to watch tournaments on TV and play with your friends; but, quitting a job or dropping out of school to pursue poker as a main source of income is a high risk venture. Even the world's best professional poker players go broke at some point in their careers. With inexperienced players entering the mix, it seems likely that the popularity of poker will lead to more people losing all of their life savings. Poker's popularity is growing every day without much regard to the many pitfalls associated with the most popular gaming activity in America.

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