Bad month for Indian poker

Jon Pill
Posted on: November 01, 2020 02:08 PST

India has a tangled relationship with poker. And in the last few weeks that relationship has become more complicated.

Andhra Pradesh failed to allow offshore casinos as originally hoped, leaving nowhere to play poker in the state.

Gujarat is taking a closer look at its gambling laws which have not been properly updated since 1887. This is likely to result in a tightening of restrictions around online poker.

Things also took a tragic turn when a problem gambler committed suicide in Puducherry. He left a recording on Whatsapp blaming his losses on the internet and calling for a government crackdown.

All this has meant that the last few months have seen much of the pre-pandemic hope for Indian poker drain away.

1 billion potential players

Since Black Friday, poker hasn't been the same. The player pools are smaller, and the density of grinders is higher. What fish you can still find are tougher than they used to be.

The U.S. market is functionally cut off from most international players at this point. The German market is headed that way. PokerStars have dropped key markets in East Asia, and China's riding roughshod over whoever's left.

So India has become the next big hope for another worldwide poker boom.

The WPT recently signed a deal with Adda52, the biggest online poker provider in India. The Poker Sports League, an India Poker TV production group, are kicking off their third season online after a successful trial tourney.

There were signs of hope. But hopes have taken a few steps back of late.

No, no, no, to boats

The state of Andhra Pradesh occupies a long stretch of India's east coast. Though the state moved to outlaw gambling in its jurisdiction last month, it left the option open to approving offshore casinos.

That option has now closed.

Boat gambling would have created a similar situation to that of Goa on the opposite coast. There, the floating Casino Royale sits anchored like a Mississippi riverboat, and tourists are bussed out on water taxies to spend their rupees.

That hope is now gone with the state legislature of Andhra Pradesh ruling that offshore casinos are just as illegal as onshore casinos.

Whether that will make much practical difference remains to be seen. Even with offshore casinos to blow off steam and rolls at, players still gamble at illegal home games. Goan police have had to shut down four illegal gambling dens this month alone.

Colonial rules

The Gujarati high court has published a recommendation that the state legislature dig up its copy of the Gujarat Prevention of Gambling Act (1887) and give some thought about how best to enforce it in the age of the internet.

The law was written during British colonial rule back in the 19th Century. As a result, it has little to say on the subject of online gambling. The law does make gambling in "gambling houses" illegal. But the definition doesn't encompass the servers of tech giants for legal purposes, and players use apps to gamble all the time.

The court has raised concerns about problem gambling and about children's eas of access to these gambling apps.

Plus, the ever-present debate on skill rears its head again. This is the question of whether games like poker have a high enough luck-to-skill ratio to count as gambling games in the law.

The result of this recommendation is unlikely to improve the poker market in Gujurat. Another blow for the game.

A rummy affair

Capping the month of setbacks was the case of a man burning himself alive in Villianur, Puducherry.

The man lost ₹30 lakh (about $40k) playing rummy online. He spent his savings chasing loss after loss. Then he took out loans. In the recorded Whatsapp message which he sent out in lieu of a suicide note, he asked the government to ban all online gambling.

The government listened. Chief Minister V Narayanasamy told the press that he was pushing to make gambling illegal.

"I have written to Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad," Narayanasamy said. "Urging him to impose a ban on all online gambling platforms. Several innocent and ignorant people get addicted to the online gambling platforms and lose money rendering their families homeless."

He also cited other suicides attributed to the Blue Whale rummy app.

The result has been a popular movement for the prohibition of online gambling, even for skill games.

All of this shows just how far poker still has to go in persuading the wider world of its merits and right to exist.

Featured Image: Flickr