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Published:March 15th, 2006 01:30 EST

W.Va. college students discuss online poker frenzy

By Brandon Jennings

The waving neon cowboy on the Las Vegas strip is no longer the only thing ushering players to the poker table, movies and TV are stepping up and making all kinds of people consider whether they should try their luck or not.

I thought it was easy money,"  said Wayne Tiller, a computer and information systems tech from Clinton, Md.

Television and movies are glamorizing the poker lifestyle, and this has lead many people who have never played before to try it out or at least think about why they haven`t.

I was definitely wrong," said Tiller.

He decided to bet an entire paycheck on one game of online poker.

I watched it on TV, and I`d seen a bunch of movies. It just didn`t seem like it could be that hard," Tiller said.

He didn`t want to disclose the amount of money his paycheck was; however, it was all gone in just a few hands.

The excitement I got when I watched the movies was nothing compared to how bad I felt after I lost two weeks pay," he added.

Tiller was definitely lucky that was all he lost.  

I knew a guy who almost had to live off credit for three months because of how much money he lost," said Adam Dowd, one of Tiller`s coworkers.

Dowd is not a gambler himself; although, he admittedly has considered gambling since having seen so much poker on TV in recent years.

It`s hard not to think about it," Dowd said.

I mean it`s on probably 24 hours a day. And sometimes it`s definitely the most interesting thing on."

Movies like Rounders with Edward Norton and Matt Damon and even Goodfellas with Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci both feature high stakes poker, and Tiller cited both as influential in his decision to get into the game.

I felt like a movie star," Tiller said adding, even if it was only for about a half hour."

It is hard for him to say he`ll stay away from the game completely, even after seeing how quickly two weeks of pay can disappear from his bank account.

I`m not hooked or anything like that, but I definitely would like to feel that excitement again. And maybe I`d win next time," said Tiller.

Winning is exactly what Dusty Raines, a third-year pharmacy student at West Virginia University, has been doing lately.

I`ve won about three grand in the last couple weeks," Raines said.

There is a downside to his winnings though.

My dad was upset because he saw the deposits in my account, and he told me to get it out of there. He said if I didn`t, I would end up having to pay taxes on it," Raines said.

You are subject to taxes when you when $600 or more at a horse track on a $2 bet, $1200 at bingo or slots and $1500 plus in Keno winnings. Poker winnings are considered earned income by the IRS. So regardless of the amount, they are taxable. This is still an ongoing debate for online poker.

Now Raines is reluctant to say if he continues to play.

If I say I still play and I`m winning but I can`t put the money in the bank, then where am I keeping it?" he said.

So despite his success, he is either no longer gambling or avoiding taxes by keeping his money in his apartment.

Jodi Hatfield, a sophomore English major had a slightly different take. She said, Any time there`s easy money involved I get a little nervous."

She added: "If you can`t put it in the bank, what good does it do you when someone steals it?"

She was an acquaintance of a poker player who won a large sum of money and had it stolen from him on his way home from the game.

Her perspective? It wasn`t a legal game so he couldn`t report it to the police. What are you supposed to do in a situation like that?" she said.

Hatfield doesn`t play poker for that reason alone.

I want to be able to count on the law for protection, and if I break it, then I`m just a hypocrite," she added.

Online poker scares Megan McDonough, a sophomore, because of the uncertainty of who you`re playing against.

You can be playing against a bunch of people instead of just one," she said.

She also has little faith in the security provided by the online gambling companies to ensure the game is fair.

I`m sure someone is smart enough to make a program to see your cards."