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Last Updated : Sep 06, 2019 10:53 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Meet the poker stars of India who earn millions in the card game

Many players have made a unique identity to become professionals in the sport. Take for example Aditya Agarwal. He has been been playing poker for nearly 12 years and his career earnings are pegged at $4 million.

Maryam Farooqui @farooqui_maryam

How about playing a game of poker and winning lakhs of rupees? Sounds exciting, right!

But it is more than excitement for 24-year-old Jai Saha who won Rs 76 lakh in the European Poker Tournament held in Barcelona, recently.

Saha, who finished seventh at the event, paid Rs 3,300 to enter the qualifier for the online tournament via PokerStars.

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Like Saha, there are many players who have made a unique identity to become professionals in the sport. Take for example Aditya Agarwal. He has been been playing poker for nearly 12 years and his career earnings are pegged at $4 million (Rs 28 crore approximately).

"He (Aditya) is considered as the pioneer of poker in India, said Ankur Dewani, CEO, Sachiko Gaming that operates PokerStars India.

"Aditya picked up the game when he was studying engineering in the US. He was mathematically apt and could pick up the game really well and played big events," added Dewani.

Sharad Rao, another 24-year-old player from Pune, started poker to earn some extra income. After getting better at the game, he shifted completely to Poker to earn a fat salary.

Poker not only helped him pay off his educational loans, but has ensured his financial security.

He plays poker on the live streaming platform Twitch, which is a go to place for any amateur to learn tips and tricks of the trade. Rao, who hails form a mid-income family, has won close to Rs 3 crore in his three-year career.

Like most sports, poker is dominated by men with a mere 10 percent women participation. However, as popularity of the sport grows across India, many more women are making their presence felt in this space.

Muskan Sethi is India's first sponsored female poker player and was recently honoured by the President of India. She is also India ambassador for responsible gaming.

So, when asked who all are playing poker, Dewani's answer would be it is "diversified contest" and supports his thoughts with an example.

"When we played at the Global Poker League last year, two of the 50-60 people that made it to the shortlist were a mother-son duo. The mother, Sarita is a Math teacher and her son simply likes poker."

Even as poker is becoming a preferred game in India, there are numerous challenges faced by the players. Firstly, the legality is a cause of concer. While some Indian states have legalised poker, it is not legal in quite a few states.

If you end up playing poker in Assam or Odisha, you will be penalised.

In Gujarat and Telangana, poker is described as a game of chance hence, winnings cannot be deposited in bank accounts.

In addition, the money attracts TDS and it could be as high as 30.3 percent if a player wins over Rs 10,000.

"There is statistical evidence from various reputed economists and professionals about poker being a game of skill. The Calcutta and Karnataka high courts have also approved poker and the Nagaland Prohibition of Gambling and Promotion and Regulation of Online Games of Skill Act, 2016 also recognises it as a game of skill," said Jay Sayta, the founder of GLaws.in, a website in India monitoring law developments on gambling.

"However, the Gujarat High Court in 2016 has said that it is a game of chance and that decision is pending under appeal before a division bench of the same court. Some states like Telangana, Assam and Odisha ban all kinds of games of skill and consequently online poker is not allowed in those states," he added.

While uncertainty remains due to legal issues, the online poker market is growing in India and is reportedly estimated at Rs 700 crore.

According to Dewani, "Poker as a market share in the entire real money gaming space is probably at about 15-20 percent. It is lot larger in other established markets so we see it growing to 30-35 percent."

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First Published on Sep 6, 2019 10:53 pm

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