The second chapter of the India Poker Series (IPS) - a three-day professional poker competition - has been organised at Casino Royale, an offshore casino in Goa named after the similarly named film in which Daniel Craig debuted as the British spy with a swagger.
Bharat Agarwalla, director of IPS and chief organiser of the poker event scheduled to start July 16, told IANS that poker was already making big waves in India's secretive, tight-clutched 'underground circuit' and that competitive poker tournaments would help the card game earn some social acceptability.
"Poker is amongst the fastest growing sports in India and has become a major form of entertainment. It won't be long before it becomes the second most popular sport after cricket," Agarwalla said.
He further said although the Indian "underground circuit" was buzzing with poker, the only place in India where poker action could be legally and thoroughly enjoyed was Goa.
"There are plenty of 'underground' poker games which are taking place all across the country. The only place right now where one can experience poker action is at the casinos in Goa," Agarwalla said.
After conquering the Americas and Europe and making a foray into Asia (till now in Macau), poker is all set to rock India, he said.
Agarwalla further said that India was throwing up several competitive poker players, most of whom hailed from urban areas, barring a face or two from small towns.
He underscored the importance of attracting foreign poker professionals who would "help Indian players learn and improve further".
Defending poker against the slur of a 'luck sport', Agarwalla, who plans to organise competitive poker events in India every three months, said the game involved a high level of skill and needed to be treated like a competitive sport.
"In poker, it is the skill which counts. A more skilled player will be a consistent winner. The reason why a few handful players are top performers most of the time is because poker is a game of skill and not luck or chance," he said.
Optimistic about the future of poker in India, Agarwalla said that both historically and traditionally, Indians were at ease with gambling.
"We play teen patti and rummy during Diwali in our homes. There's been bull fighting and elephant racing in south India, camel racing in Rajasthan, cock fighting in Lucknow for years now. With time, society will open up to card gambling," he said.
"State governments should work towards this as it would earn them tourist revenue and licence fees from casinos. Legal gambling can also generate jobs in the tourism industry," he said.
Agarwalla also said that while gambling destinations in Asia were few, Goa had a good chance to beat other states in India and corner a larger share of the legal gambling industry pie.
"Gambling destinations in Asia are few. Macau takes the cake. It is the Las Vegas of Asia...Goa is an upcoming destination. It is already a hot tourist destination attracting Indian tourists round the year. Goa would always be a step ahead of other states because it has existing infrastructure and the highest tourist traffic," he said.