Coco Warner ReportingYou may have seen it on television-- "No Limit Texas Hold Em" poker. The game has become so popular, several local businesses are hoping to cash in on the trend. That is, if they can survive the controversy.
It's popular among people who say they don't like to gamble, but like to play cards for the sport, not the money. Texas Hold Em' fans say it's more about strategy and competition than anything else-- and that's why for some Utahns, they've developed a passion for poker.
So what is it about this poker game that's so appealing? That players work with the same cards? Or is it the thrill of the unknown?
Matt Nadeau, Big SLC Poker Club: “Actually, this is No Limit Texas Hold 'Em, so at any time there's no structure really how much you have to bet. So I could actually go all of my chips at one time if I wanted to.”
And that seems to be the game's biggest draw--at anytime you can risk everything and go "all in."
Matt Nadeau: "Your tournament can be over, you gotta go sit down and you can't play anymore; or you just doubled all your chips up and now you're a big favorite."
Big SLC Poker Club opened its doors in July. Owner Matt Nadeau says six people showed up that first night, but now business is booming.
Matt Nadeau: "They come in, they say, I” love watching it on TV. I don't want to go into a casino, I don't know what I'm doing and I saw you guys. Can you teach me how to play? Can I learn how to play here?'"
And Jamin Epperson wants to provide an outlet for players in Davis County. He hopes to open Club Full House in Layton in about a month.
Jamin Epperson, Club Full House: "It will be very similar to a bowling league or a golf league, a weekly golf league that kind of thing."
But if Texas Hold 'Em is so popular that it warrants its own downtown store, with that popularity may come a price. Law enforcement is concerned if it's legal. Health experts are concerned if it's addictive.
The attorney generals office recently outlined three elements that define illegal gambling: It is among people who have given or agreed to give something of value in order to participate; there is an element of luck in the game; and finally, something of value may be received.
Thom Roberts, Asst. Utah Attorney General: “There are three elements to illegal gambling. And if you have all three of the elements, then you probably have illegal gambling. If you are missing one of those elements, then you probably don't have illegal gambling. “
So if poker clubs charge a registration fee then players, legally, shouldn't play for a reward-- just bragging rights.
Matt Nadeau: "We feel like what we're doing right now completely complies, and I just think for everybody's sake it would just be nice to have some clarification."
And whether real money is involved or not, experts say the game has addictive qualities.
Michael Measom, M.D., Valley Mental Health: “The easiest way to know it's a problem with any addictions is if it causes problems in your life – problems at work, problems at home.”
But fans say it's just good clean fun. What's more all-American than Friday night poker night? And for those who can't find a game, there's almost always one to watch on television, and there's a growing poker business on the internet.
Jamin Epperson, Club Full House: “Tournament Hold 'Em is a form of competition. It's a form of recreational competition that is really becoming more-so recognized as a sport.”
Christine Cramer, Poker fan: “They say a moment to learn and a lifetime to excel in it.”
Texas Hold Em' fans know that people may have a negative image about poker, but stress there is no smoking or drinking at most of these clubs. Still, there does seem to be a stigma attached to the game. The Big SLC poker club had a tournament scheduled at the University of Utah for tonight, but the U canceled those plans out of image concerns.