Move over cricket! Online poker is India’s new professional sport

New Delhi: This Diwali, you might have tried your luck in the card game of poker for fun but thousands of Indians each month train, read, practice, meditate and even sweat at the gym to make poker their profession.

Yes, often considered illegal, a large number of Indians are seen pursuing a full fledged career in poker, which is already a professional sport in many western countries. India has seen a boom in the number of online players who are placing their bets on over a dozen poker websites and apps and have even bagged top positions at international events.

At present, there are no clear cut gaming guidelines and rules to regulate the online gaming sector, licenses are issued by most states in accordance to the rules on ‘Games of Skill’ under the Public Gaming Act. In India, only two states currently allow gambling through their offline licences, Goa and Sikkim.

Roland Landers CEO of All India Gaming Federation (AIGF), told DB Post, “We want to tell the world that Poker is like any other game where one can win or lose, but if you hone your skills then your chances of winning increases. There is ambiguity whenever poker is mentioned. It is not just about gambling, it is a combination of skill, mathematics, decision-making and grit.”

India’s only woman to win the World Series of Poker tournament bracelet at Las Vegas, Nikita Luther, claims world top universities recognise poker as sport and she has also made it her full-time profession. “There is a stereotype attached with poker — since it is played with a deck of cards and money is involved, it is considered illegal. But the fact is the game involves as much skills, calculation, permutation as it is required in any other sports. We spend hours to train ourselves which includes reading, researching, planning game theories and fitness to keep our mind and body fit for the game.”

Indian poker players are making their mark at several international tournaments. Also the domestic online market is seeing a multi-fold rise. Another pro-player Kunal Patni, who quit being a banker to pursue the sport points out that there are multiple factors other than luck that determines the game. “From the moment the cards are dealt, there is decision-making at every stage. Multiple thoughts go into it, in terms of the cards — how the opponent is behaving, what possible hand to play,” Patni said.

The industry is establishing an ethics based self-regulation mechanism initiated by the All India Gaming Federation (AIGF), the apex industry body for policy advocacy and regulation for online gaming in India.

Pushing for the legislation of sports betting, Landers from AIGF said that poker, rummy or any fantasy league games, all are loosely based around the mechanism of betting. There is a stigma attached to these games in India, despite of games like rummy being declared skill based by the Supreme Court of India.

“Games like rummy, poker and fantasy league are prevalent and growing in the Indian market. We are talking about skill based and chance based gaming which need regulation in India. The numbers in this space are enormous. There are threats associated with this, obviously. But our prime focus right now is to develop the Indian gaming industry in such a way that it is responsible, well regulated, objectively taxed and does best for everyone associated to it,” said Landers.