Popular TV shows such as "Celebrity Poker" and "World Series of Poker" have turned millions of people on to the card game. Among those the game is luring: a growing number of teens, often with their parents' permission.
And that worries experts, who say low-stakes poker games could be creating a high-stakes problem: an addiction to gambling.
Keith Whyte, executive director of the The Early Show Wednesday, Family Circle magazine Editor in Chief Linda Fears points out that some parents forget poker is, after all, gambling. They view poker as an innocent game.
"The poker craze has so infiltrated American life," she says, "that people do take it for granted." What parents need to remember is that poker is gambling, and gambling is now the most popular high-risk activity among teens, outpacing drinking, smoking or taking drugs.
Family Circle has a piece on teens playing poker in its current issue.
"Because," Fears says, "hanging out with your friends playing cards, or being part of an online fantasy football league is fun. Making easy money is fun, too. Poker became especially hot because of all the TV shows that make it look so glamorous.
"But kids don't realize they're watching only the final rounds, where one person wins big. They don't see the hundreds of people who lost tens of thousands of dollars the day before."
Even playing a once-a-week, low stakes game of poker can be risky for teens, Fears notes: "For some, it can be the first step down the road to addiction. Kids are two-to-three times as likely as adults to become obsessed with gambling, and gambling is often the gateway activity to other risky behavior. In fact, eighth graders who gamble are three-times more likely than non-gamblers to have stolen money, been involved in a fight, shoplifted, or gotten into trouble with the police."
So what red flags should parents keep an eye out for?
There are several, Fears says, including:
The reality is some parents are going to overlook the possible risk of the game and allow their kids to play, Fears observes.
The Family Circle article gives a few pointers for parents.
Explain the dangers: Tell your teen you know it can be fun, and betting $1 a game seems harmless, but gambling can get out of control very quickly.
Talk about the financial risks: Put things in perspective by explaining that people lose a lot more than they ever win. If that weren't true, casinos couldn't stay in business.
Monitor computer games and other online behavior: You should always know what your kids are doing online. Keep an eye out for online arcade games, because they can be a training ground for the adrenaline rush that gambling gives.
Set an example: Gambling isn't an innocuous behavior, and anything that legitimizes it, whether hitting the Vegas casinos on a family vacation or buying your child a poker set for his birthday, isn't a good idea.
Fears adds that most kids won't become addicted, and if they play moderately, it's not the end of the world. Bit it is illegal. Ask yourself: Would you let your 15-year-old sit around drinking beer with his buddies? It's the same thing.
If you suspect someone has or may be developing a gambling problem, you could get help from, among others:
The National Council on Problem Gambling, which was mentioned earlier. 1 800 522 4700
A 24-hour hotline provided by the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, at 1 800 GAMBLER (1 800 426 2537)