The game of poker is becoming a popular card game especially amongst youngsters as is evident from the spurt in numbers in online and offline card rooms. However there has not been any serious attempt to promote poker as a mind sport amongst all sections of the society and existing operators have largely been content with running commercial poker rooms (both online and offline).
However if serious attempts are to be made to make poker an important sport in India and allow the game to thrive in a legal and structured environment, the poker community will have to focus on the following areas:
- Recognition as an official sport
Though arguments can be raised about the legality of poker and preponderance of skill in various formats of the game, serious attempts have to be made to get official recognition for poker as a mind sport akin to chess. The Union Ministry of Sports & Youth Affairs grants recognition to various sporting federations and currently recognises 53 sports federations of different sports. Clause 3(2) (b) of the Draft National Sports Development Bill also has provisions for recognising National Sports Federations which can be added to Schedule I of the Bill.
While the International Mind Sports Association has recognised poker as a mind game, there is no official movement to get poker recognised as a legitimate activity. The International Federation of Poker (IFP) and other organisations are making some progress on creating awareness about the game of poker; however no serious effort has been made to get official recognition for the game of poker. Serious efforts have to be made in this direction for the aim of making poker a popular sport to succeed.
- Setting up of poker training centres
Along with efforts to lobby for official recognition to the game of poker, it is also important that poker is taught to students, youngsters etc. not necessarily for stakes. People at large should be taught to play poker in a competitive environment and made aware about values and skills of negotiation, strategy, mathematics, game theory etc. that could be developed through an in-depth understanding of the game. Probably, having courses about poker in Universities, tying up with corporate houses to teach poker to employees of large companies and industrial houses and having massive outreach programmes is critical for the game of poker to boom on a large scale.
- Promoting poker in Hindi and other regional languages
It is a known fact that Indians are crazy about card games like teenpatti and rummy. While there is lot of curiosity about the game of poker, all card lovers across India have not adopted poker or switched from other card games at a rapid rate (with India’s craze for teenpatti, it is believed that convincing people to switch to poker will not be a difficult task if promoted in the right manner since both games have somewhat similar rules and characteristics). One reason for why poker has not become as popular in India as in USA is because the rules and terminology of the game is difficult to understand. A large section of the Indian population specially in semi-urban and rural areas is not conversant in English, finding it difficult to comprehend rules, regulations and the complex terminology of poker.
Promoting poker in Hindi and other vernacular languages through newspapers, radio and television is probably one step that can be taken to have a greater footprint and outreach programme for the game. (One of the reasons attributed for cricket becoming a national passion is radio commentary in Hindi and other languages).
- Brand endorsements by celebrities
For any product to be popular it is important that it grabs eyeballs and has endorsements from the rich and the famous. Rafael Nadal, Boris Becker and Shane Warne are just few examples of famous sports persons endorsing popular online poker websites in the West.
Harman Baweja, Rakesh Roshan, Jeetender and other celebrities have been reported to have played poker at various casinos. It is important that various Bollywood stars, businessmen, cricketers etc. in India know and understand the game of poker and explain the significance and values derived from the game.
- Research/statistical analysis
Along with other efforts at promoting and marketing the game of poker, it is also critical that economists, statisticians and other intellectuals carry out independent research to develop a hypothesis on the degree of skill involved in poker and benefits to one’s personality from the game.
Poker certainly can have many benefits to society and also aid other intellectual games like chess (as admitted by chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov). Just as Steven Levitt and other eminent economists have come out with path breaking research, India should also encourage scholars to analyse trends in this interesting area.
- Driving existing players to Indian poker sites
While there are multiple Indian poker sites functioning within India, the poker pro’s of India prefer to turn to international poker sites seeking better competition. If this cream of Indian poker starts playing on our own home bred poker sites like Adda52.com then the player expertise will collectively go up thereby encouraging the new crop of Indian poker to join the band wagon.
- Dispelling the social stigma attached with poker
Any card game or wagering activity in India is frowned upon and attracts negative attention. Thus for any movement for gaining legitimate status to gain traction, the aim should be to have a sustained and structured campaign to remove the social taboo attached to poker. This could be done by having competitive free to poker tournaments with prominent sponsors and lucrative awards, organising discussions and events on legality and benefits of poker, hosting charitable poker events and lobbying with state and central government officials, political and social organisations etc.
- Hosting International tournaments in India
Poker like chess does not require creation of extraordinary infrastructure to host professional events. All that is required is an indoor venue/casino with video equipment, poker tables, cards, dealers and other equipment. Thus, hosting regional events such as Asian Poker Tour (APT) or inter-state/regional tournaments in India will help popularise and promote the game in India as well as attract media attention.
Initially the focus should be on promoting regional and local events to foster a competitive environment of playing for achieving laurels for one’s state or country with the final goal of promoting poker on a global level in India. Again, the focus should be to promote poker not only in casinos but also in other specialised poker establishments to dispel the notion that poker is a game of chance.
About the author
Jay Sayta is a law student of the National University of Juridical Sciences Kolkata and runs GLaws.in; India’s first and only website on gaming laws. Jay started GLaws.in about three years ago as a resource to monitor developments in the gaming industry. In a short span of three years, GLaws.in has become a premier resource for everyone associated with the Indian gaming industry.
Jay has advised many companies and start-ups on various aspects concerning the Indian gaming industry. He has also written several articles in journals and other publications and has been quoted as an expert on gaming laws by several top newspapers such as Financial Times, Times of India and Mint.