January 28, 2010

Hastings ’10 Sets World Poker Record With $4.2 Million Win

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While some Cornell students might head to the gym or even the bar to relieve the stress brought on by end-of-semester exams, Brian Hastings ’10 turns to gambling. But during finals week of last semester, for instance, his passion for online poker won him $4.18 million.

Hastings broke the record for largest single-day online poker profit by playing four to six games at once, according to the Full Tilt Poker website.

“It kind of didn’t sink in for a half hour or so after I won and then I had a ‘holy shit’ moment and I was wired,” said Hastings. “Everyone was studying for finals and I was drinking beers by myself celebrating.”

Hastings’ interest in online poker began during his junior year in high school when his math teacher, an online poker enthusiast, began sharing tips and strategies with him due to his exceptional math skills. From there, he created his own account on an online gambling site called Ultimate Bet, where he invested $50 of the money he earned working as a mascot for Little Caesar’s Pizza, according to a blog Hastings posted last December.

His mother, Mary Hastings, said she was skeptical at first about her son’s involvement with online gambling and wanted to be sure that everything he was doing was legal. The enactment of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 made it illegal for banks and some other financial institutions to fund or process deposits to online poker sites — but as an individual, fortunately Hastings’ poker habit is completely legal in the U.S. as long as he reports and pays taxes on his winnings.

Along with the wins, Hastings has also seen his fair share of losses since he began playing poker five years ago. About a year before his big win, for example, Hastings said he lost around $650,000.

“It was a substantial loss so I dropped out of the stakes and refocused,” said Hastings. “Then, I slowly started working my way back to where I’d been by not taking as big of risks as I had been taking at the time.”

Although Hastings’ winning combination of luck and skill has enabled him to win an enormous amount of money playing online poker, his story is the exception to the rule according to Judy Ekman, executive director of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention Council in Saratoga Springs, New York.

“For someone to win that much money is a wonderful story, but think about it like this — how many Cornell basketball players actually go on to become professionals?” Ekman continued, “People tend to look at gambling as something that anybody can do and succeed at.”

Online gambling is especially prevalent among male college students and young adults, according to Ekman, since they are no longer under the watchful eye of their parents and can gain access to most gambling websites once they turn 18.

“Students can stay up all night and gamble and then go to class, sit in the back row and play poker online there, too,” said Ekman. “So if you put all of those elements together it means young adults are particularly vulnerable to developing a gambling addiction.”

Ekman said that it is when online poker and other forms of gambling begin to dictate other aspects of a student’s life that their hobby may be characterized as an addiction. According to her, one of the biggest indicators of a gambling problem is when students start betting money they cannot afford to lose.

Hastings said that it is inexperienced players’ inability to control their emotions during a game that usually accounts for major losses, as they may get excited by a winning streak and not know when to stop playing or get frustrated by a loss, go all in and lose what money they have left.

“One thing people have to realize is that poker is a game of skill and, in the short term, luck plays a big factor,” said Hastings. “I got very lucky with this win, but in the long term you have to be a fairly intelligent person to be successful in the first place.”

Hastings attributes his overwhelming success to many years of online poker experience. When he first began gambling online, he would play about 25 hours a week, but in recent years he has cut back to around 10 hours a week in an effort to focus on his school work.

“I am constantly grateful that Brian continues to prioritize staying in school and getting decent grades,” Mary explained. “I think he realizes the benefits of a college education and also [he realizes] that he may eventually want to pursue a career other than poker in the future.”

Even with his multi-million dollar win, Hastings is happy with his decision to remain at Cornell, where he is scheduled to graduate next fall.

“I’ve matured a lot as a person in college, learned a lot, made some really great friends — and if I could do it all again, I’d do the exact same thing,” Hastings said.

Original Author: Samantha Willner