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India has had a lot to celebrate in terms of progress and development in the poker industry, but an incident that took place in Bengaluru on September 30 has marred this growth and put the future of poker in the Garden City at risk.
In a shocking incident, the Central Crime Branch (CCB) officials raided the CardRack poker room in Bengaluru at around 3 pm on Sunday, September 30. The incident came to light following a social media post by one of the players who happened to be at the venue at the time of the incident. Reports suggest that around 27 players were present at the premises at the time of the raid.
Bengaluru has been a hub for poker in India and a hotbed of emerging poker talent since the live poker scene exploded in the city. The credit for this goes to the landmark judgement that was passed by the Karnataka High Court in 2013. In Indian Poker Association v. State of Karnataka case, the Court had stated on October 8, 2013, that skill games like poker could be played in recreational clubs without the need of a license. This judgement was a reaction to the police raid that had been conducted at a club affiliated with the Indian Poker Association (IPA). K.N. Suresh, Secretary of IPA, had led the crusade for conducting poker games in Bangalore.
Justice AS Bopanna of the Karnataka High Court had observed, “Having taken note of the fact that in respect of the game of poker if played as a game of skill, license is not contemplated and further keeping in view the fact that permission in this case had been obtained in that regard, the petitioner would be entitled to conduct such games provided, the same is in accordance with law.”
However, the incident of September 30 wasn’t the first time that the law enforcement officials have cracked down on poker clubs. On August 6, 2016, local police had raided the Rockets Poker Room in Bengaluru where the Poker Galactica Live Tour was underway. The inaugural series was announced by Santosh Suvarna of Rockets Poker room and was proving to be quite a success, before the local authorities dropped by at the venue. The third event of the series was ongoing with about 100 players still in the fray, with cash games also running at the sides, when about 12-15 policemen in civil clothes entered the premises, slapped the bouncer around and barged into the poker room. The policemen made all the players sit on the floor for three hours, as they systematically cleaned out all the cash at the counters. Players were also asked to empty their wallets and provide personal details, such as name, address, parents’ names etc., but the police provided no official challan or seizure list for the confiscated items.
This incident had a traumatizing effect on the local poker fraternity and the unrest within the community persisted for several weeks, before things slowly got back to normal.
Sadly, two years later, the Card Rack poker room incident has taken place. In a repeat of the incident in 2016, the officials confiscated large amount of cash and other valuables on September 30. Once again neither the details of items confiscated nor any seizure list was made available to either the poker room operator or the players even after numerous requests.
As per reports, a FIR has been registered against the poker room operator Sampath Kumaracharya though as per the limited information available, no charges were pressed against the players who were given a notice after 3 hours in the local police station. Police officials have alleged that the game Andar Baahar was being played at the venue.
In retrospect, these are not isolated incidents. The local authorities seem to be on a city-wide drive to hinder the operations of all poker rooms within the Garden City. A serious attempt has been made by the police to seal all clubs that conduct high-stakes Rummy games and over 500 clubs have been asked to close down.
According the Bangalore Mirror, the law enforcement officials claimed, “the crackdown is mainly against card rooms which do not offer any other facilities to their members except gaming.” They further stated, “the clubs have been granted recreational licenses to offer card tables to its members on the condition that card games facilities are offered along with other avenues of recreation, such as sport and leisure facilities.”
Commenting on the latest raid, Additional Commissioner of Police (Crime) Alok Kumar also noted that, “the objective was to crack down on all illegal activities in the city.”
As per reports, all live poker operations in the city have been stalled and all major poker clubs have shut operations temporarily.
Poker operators are often soft targets for black mail and have been asked for bribes to continue operations in the past. Despite the growth and boom in poker, the sport has been continually targeted by authorities, causing immense loss to operators and players alike.