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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 November 2006, 17:04 GMT
The reporter's story
Panorma reporter Declan Lawn with professional gambler Matthew Hopkins
Panorma reporter Declan Lawn with professional gambler Matthew Hopkins
Panorama reporter Declan Lawn turned online gambler and used his own funds to try to double his money.

I've never been much of a gambler. I'm the sort of person who wonders why the local bookies seems a bit busier than usual.

Then I find out a few hours later that I've missed the Grand National.

Nor am I particularly enthralled by the internet. I have a three-site virtual repertoire in the way that Status Quo have three-chord songs.

Imagine my surprise, then, at finding myself screaming at a computer in the dead hours of the morning, a frenzied glint in my exhausted eye, as I gambled thousands of dollars in a high stakes internet poker game.

In just three weeks, I became an internet poker obsessive.

It all started as an experiment. As we researched the impact of online gaming in the UK for Panorama, we were surprised at how many people in online poker forums were saying that they had given up their jobs in order to play full time.

It seems that for quite a number of people, there was a living to be made on the virtual card tables.

For some people in the UK, online poker isn't just an obsession. It's a profession.

It struck me that the best way to experience the attractions and pitfalls of this relatively new phenomenon would be to grab a piece of the action for myself.

Online poker is played for US dollars, and I decided to stake $2000 of my own money on a series of games. Fear not, licence payers - this was cash from my own pocket, and the BBC made it very clear that if I lost it, that would be my problem.

The only flaw in my plan was that I'm a terrible poker player, the kind who interrupts games between friends to quietly ask for the rule book to be passed over before he bets.

That's where Matthew Hopkins came in.

Two years ago, Matthew was working part-time in a chip shop in South Wales and studying to be an accountant when a friend told him about online poker.

Today, aged just twenty, he's clearing a profit of about $20,000 every month.

To Matthew, my hard earned $2000 is just a day at the office. To me, it's a month with a roof over my head and the bills paid.

And so it began. Matthew came to my home town of Belfast where we set ourselves up with everything we needed for a month-long internet poker session. It took five minutes and a credit card to open an online poker account. We were ready.

Matthew more than doubled my cash within 48 hours without breaking sweat.

Now I was getting interested.

Another thousand dollars in the bank, which brought me up to five thousand dollars, and I was somewhat more than interested.

By now were playing for hours each day, but it seemed like minutes. We played when we got up in the morning. In the middle of the night.

When I walked away from the computer, I could still see the screen burned onto my retina. We kept winning. It was scary. I loved it.

This was easy money and we were only playing on tables of $50 and $100 buy-in.

What if we upped the stakes, I reasoned? What if we played for $500 dollars a hand? Or $1000?

Matthew said it was idiocy and that I was just being greedy. He said we didn't have a big enough bank roll and that playing such high stakes could mean we would lose everything in just a few hands.

I made him do it anyway.

The cameras followed what happened next. For the first time in my life, I felt like a gambler.



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