PPA-India Group: Striving for better poker in India

Poker in IndiaThe Poker Player Alliance (PPA) – India is a non-profit group, which shares its name and objective with the United States based Poker Player Alliance, which is headquartered at Washington, DC. PPA-India is currently an informal Facebook group with no association with the USA based group. PPA India’s endeavour is to become a revolutionary support system for Poker in general.

PPA India’s primary objective is to foster membership to the group and build a large community of poker enthusiasts who can collectively lobby for the interests of the poker community. Their mission statement defines them as “a pressure group, which in the future, will liaise with the Government to have Poker recognized as a game of skill, separating it from lottery and other games of chance.”

The group is minimally administered and moderated by a bunch of poker players (currently 10 admins) who are not affiliated to any brandThe admin team has been working towards increasing poker awareness by allowing members to share all kinds of poker related news and quote their opinions and views on the game. 

We caught up with a few of the PPA Admins and prominent poker players of India to see what PPA needs to focus on and what they strive to do. Below, Rakesh Sharma(RS) and Vinay Suchede(VS), Aditya Sushant(AS) and Ashutosh Naik(AN) answer questions put by Online Poker News(OPN).

OPN: What is PPA India?
VS: PPA India is as of now just an informal facebook group.

RS: PPA India is a forum for the players, by the players and of the players. It is a non-partisan and non-commercial group on facebook, providing a platform for news, views, analysis and debates on poker in India, with minimal moderation. 

OPN:  Who comprises PPA India?

VS: Since it is an informal facebook group. It does not have any owner or a committee. The group is just minimally moderated by a bunch of poker players who are not aligned to any poker brand.

RS: PPA has in its core admin panel some of the best players involved with poker in India. It is an eclectic bunch of people, with a wealth of tourney and cash game experience in India and abroad. The team includes veterans like Abhishek Goindi and Aditya Sushant (in their early 20s) and newbies like Rakesh Sharma (late 40s) and senior pros like Amit Varma. The team is an interesting mix of people with varying skill sets – lawyer (Prabhat Mukherjea), Counsellor (Marga), engineer (Sumit Sapra), Writer/ Journalist (Amit), film-maker (Rakesh) etc

OPN: Why was it formed?

VS: It was formed basically to develop a sense of community and camaraderie between poker players and also as a platform where they can give feedback / air their grievances without any censorship. In absence of gaming commission in the country a strong player community is much needed.

RS: Many of us felt the need for such a space, away from Facebook groups ‘owned’ by brands and/ or tourney organisers.

OPN: How can it be a forum for all that poker India faces right now?

RS: Though the forum is just about 6-month old, it has already become a platform for players and tourney organisers/ poker room managers to have a healthy dialogue. We see this as a space fostering ongoing feedback and dialogue among all poker stakeholders.

OPN: What are the problems faced by the poker players of India?

VS: Currently the major problems facing poker players are from the Government which is considering poker tournaments akin to lottery and taxing it 30% non-deductible TDS. It also does not recognize poker a game of skill. Thus it cannot be played outside a casino and thus legal poker is restricted to jurisdiction which allows casinos. Other problem facing poker players is since poker can only be played inside a casino, conducting a legal game of poker has huge overheads which the casinos pass on to the players. It is still felt however the charges (which is the rake) casinos in the country are charging is way too high and there should be a rationalization of rake rates. Without this rationalization, the poker economy will meet its imminent demise.

RS: Poker in India is facing a rather fascinating crisis. At a time when poker is exploding in the country, we have seen stagnation on the live poker scene, with 2013 thus far proving to be a terrible year for tourneys. It is fascinating as homegames are mushrooming across cities, the number of people playing poker on facebook is now in lakhs and yet, we are seeing negative growth vis-a-vis live poker.

AS: Problems facing poker here are legality concerns, legislation and taxation issues. More so for online poker since live poker laws are known. Also, the rake has been killing the system everywhere. Live tournament scene is dead right now because of a combination of rake, tds, expenses and more people slowly going broke. Numbers are at an all time low. Organisers everywhere need to think long term instead of short term. Short term thinking is costing everybody including themselves. Healthy not unhealthy competition is needed.

Well, poker isn’t illegal strictly speaking. But, to make it completely legal in all forms would take a very long time. For starters, it needs to be one of the key priorities for the Govt which it isn’t. That’s why we have formed the PPA as a long term endeavor to try and speeden up the process and help poker players everywhere in the country.

AN: One of the biggest problems facing the nascent Indian poker industry is the high rake being charged by the Indian casinos. Whereas the Rake all over the world is around the $6-$10 mark, in India – it goes close to $100. The other problem is the tax treatment of poker. In a country where only horse betting and rummy is legal, poker is counted amongst the game of chance, thus being subject to a full 30 percent tax on any winnings and no expenses/losses are allowed to be offset against it. The casinos should find a way to reduce the rake by bringing in volume for cash games, and the important stake holders of the poker industry need to make a representation to the government to make poker counted amongst the games of skill. The PPA was formed for the same purpose and will make these representations to the government in the future. The PPA is a non profit organisation not owned by anyone per se, and one of the agendas of PPA is to try and make poker legal in India.

OPN: How can PPA help in solving Indian poker’s problems?

RS: Many of the issues are already being addressed by organisers and managements (like rake, rakeback schemes, TDS etc) but as PPA we feel a concerted effort by all poker stakeholders in needed to address the current crisis. Perhaps we will soon have an India Poker Society/ Association involving the entire cross-section to discuss, deliberate and work on strategies to address the issues involved.

Some of these pertain to straightforward issues like a macro balance between casino rakes and player bankrolls or transparent rakeback schemes. Some other issues require serious thought and strategy, eg, falling turnouts in tourneys, thereby creating a perception that Indian tourneys have low value and inadequate ROI as opposed to, say, a Macau event with 4-500 entries. Some issues need a long term focus and strategy – how to have poker recognised legally as a game of skill (as opposed to lottery/ chance) or how to have a rational tax regime that recognises poker prizes/earnings as professional income rather than a windfall gain.