by Barbara Woolsey
Devin Sembaluk is a University of Regina student. After school he goes to his “part-time job”: playing online poker from home. Sembaluk plays on Poker Stars and has never invested a dime into the site. He started with a free credit and continually turns profit from profit. Depending on the stakes, he can play up to nine tables at a time, rapidly shifting between browser windows.
Because of this, he prefers online poker to actual table games at the local casino
“In real life, it’s so slow,” said Sembaluk. “Online, you can play up to a thousand hands an hour. If you’re looking to make money, all the money’s online.”
Over the past five years, online gambling has spread across the country like wildfire. Popular websites such as Poker Stars and Party Poker boast 10,000-plus players per tournament and large sums of money are passed back and forth over electronic tables daily.
According to Kyle Siler, a sociology doctoral student at Cornell University, online poker has changed the nature of the game.
“It’s must faster, you don’t need time to deal and all the math in the chips is done immediately,” he said. “In the ’80s there may have been a group of 40 or 50 people making a living at playing poker … online poker has increased the amount of hands you can play exponentially and the amount of players involved, so there’s more to be won.”
In Siler’s most recent study, he analyzed over 27 million hands of online Texas Hold ’Em. His research showed the more hands a person wins, the more money they are likely to lose. Players become more confident over a period of small stakes wins and are likely to blow it all in one high stakes hand.
Statistically, novice players lost the most money. Fortunately for card sharks, beginners make up the majority of players on gambling sites.
“The average person is going to go on(line) and lose,” said Sembaluk. “Players are getting a lot smarter.”
Tom Grassick used to play online poker every day, but stopped when his bankroll took a plunge.
“I’ve lost more money than I care to admit,” he said. “A hobby is fun, an addiction isn’t.”
Statistics for online players with a serious problem are difficult to compile. Likewise, gambling websites are impossible to regulate, unlike casinos, which are government-sponsored.
The fast pace and lack of policing makes online gambling more dangerous than the real thing, Grassick said.
“You can wake up, eat a bowl of cereal, and play,” he explained. “It’s not like getting up, getting dressed, and going to the casino where you see the money on the table and it’s tangible. Online poker, it’s almost too convenient.”
So when it comes to winners and losers, Lady Luck has little weight in the world of online gambling.
“You can blame luck at some point, but it’s mostly about skill and strategy,” said Siler.
“That’s why you get suckers at the table.”