UNL Poker Club

Alec Rome looks at his hand during a poker game on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Televised poker has been around since the 1970s, but as of Oct. 11, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Poker Club has gotten in on the action. 

Through a combination of ingenuity and a partnership with Twitch, the UNL Poker Club is trying its hand at livestreaming meetings every Thursday and Sunday at 7 p.m. The club is now the only collegiate poker club in the country to stream its meetings live, and the only one with a table utilizing RFID  — or radio frequency identification — technology. These poker tables have antennas implanted that connect to a computer program, so when the cards run over those spots on the tables, graphics are triggered on the broadcast.

President of the UNL Poker Club and junior broadcasting major Alec Rome said the new table with RFID technology makes the streams run smoothly and more professionally.

“You can actually see everybody’s cards, and it would be more akin to what you would see on ESPN when you’re seeing live broadcasts,” Rome said.

The club members built the table in September at the Nebraska Innovation Studio. Rome said construction was far from his mind before starting on the table.

“We bought all the wood, bought all the materials and did it ourselves,” Rome said. “That was not something I ever thought I would do.”

The finished poker table now lives in Andersen Hall with the school’s broadcasting equipment. However, the school’s Tricaster — a professional live production system — and other broadcasting equipment are no longer used for its streams. Vice president and broadcasting and sports media major Geoff Exstrom said the club did its first stream with the school’s Tricaster, but issues came up.

“It was very inflexible,” Exstrom said. “We didn’t exactly know how it would connect directly with USB, and if the technology was going to work with it in the first place.”

Now, the club uses Rome’s personal equipment, which consists of smartphones, tablets, a gaming PC and a stream deck, which he uses to switch camera angles on the stream.

“Equipment isn’t everything,” Rome said. “Sometimes, lower-priced equipment can be your best friend in something like this. I cart in two plastic bins, a pack of lights and a Lowe’s bucket and that’s what all my gear stays in. I can take it back and forth from my house to the J-School … We can get it set up in two hours and broken down in a half hour.”

Despite what Rome calls a “mad scientist” setup, he hopes that his all-or-nothing personality reflects well in the livestreams.

“I always try to push to the nth degree to do the best thing or get even better or do something a little more insane when it comes to this stuff,” Rome said.

The club considers themselves to be one of the best poker clubs in the nation among other collegiate clubs. When COVID-19 hit, UNL and six other schools had a six-week online poker tournament where they proved their mettle.

“We end up having alright weeks and then we win the whole thing — the teams and the individual,” Rome said. “It established us and the first best college poker club in the nation.”

According to Rome, the club’s biggest mission is to grow the poker-playing community in Lincoln. 

“We’re very blessed to be able to put something on like this,” Rome said. “We’re super excited. We hope people come in, watch and are just as excited about this, even if they aren’t super invested or knowledgeable about the game of poker.”