The game of poker in India has received traction after gaining popularity in the US, China and the European nations. It has gone beyond being perceived as a “home game” played among a group of friends at home during Diwali as a means of socialising only. All that said, the game remains in its infancy when compared to the international scene. The market for poker remains lucrative however the infrastructure needs to be put in place to make the game mainstream.
Poker rooms in India are relatively small with only 7- 8 tables at the most. In comparison to the United States, the Bellagio in Las Vegas alone has more than 30 poker tables. This is just in 1 hotel in Vegas. Additionally in terms of revenue poker accounts only a small percentage of the casinos here. While poker has been a common feature of the social scene among Indians, countrywide poker remains new for many. However to attract more players to the game the casinos are encouraging poker tournaments. This way tournament organisers can take home guaranteed money and it brings in players too. It’s important to note that tournament style poker intensified the love for the game world-wide and its catching up in India too.
The turn-outs for these tournaments have also increased over the years. During the first India Poker Championship in 2011 there were only 65 people, today the numbers have risen remarkably to 5000- 7000 people. The spread of the players is limited to the big cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. What needs to be done is to make the game more accessible to people beyond these cities. Even-though better access to the internet has enabled more people to play poker online, but people coming to play poker online will always be through offline first.
Legally speaking most laws on gambling are left to the individual states to decide like in the USA for instance. There is a central law of Public Gambling act of 1867 in India which is restrictive and outdated. As per the Supreme Court games, games based on skill are legal, and poker happens to be just that. With a lot of grey areas regarding the legislation about the game poker, it remains outside the purview of the people here. In the UK casinos have been operating freely for nearly two decades now, as compared to India where there is a lot of ambiguity over the legalisation of poker both online and offline. In terms of taxes, a poker player is liable to pay 30% of his/her winnings as tax to the Government in India. But this is not the same in South Africa where a regular player playing for recreational purposes is not subject to paying a tax.
The mindset of the people needs overhauling too when it comes to playing poker professionally to make money. Indians associate traditional career choices of being a doctor or an engineer with success and stability. But the same level of acceptance is not given to playing poker as a career choice. But all that said tides are changing in India too. With online poker being easily accessible to people the poker industry is booming in India.