A Shock to the Poker System

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NEW DELHI ~ The poker face has dropped a little among gamblers in Goa after major casinos announced last month that winnings in Texas Hold-em poker tournaments would come minus 30 per cent tax deducted at source (TDS).

The casinos changed their policy to comply with Section 194B of the Income Tax Act, 1961. If a player wins Rs 1 lakh in a tournament with a buy-in of Rs 10,000, a sum of Rs 30,000 gets deducted straightaway as tax and the winner is awarded Rs 70,000. Tournament players say that’s too much if you also consider travel and lodging costs.

They believe that such a move will drive players away from these casinos and that, in turn, will affect the prize money and winnings that are usually on offer.

“This is a time when a gaming commission should come into place in India. It should help the Government identify poker as a game of skill— akin to chess or backgammon— rather than club it with card games and games of chance such as teen patti, roulette or state-run lotteries,” says Vinay Suchede, an activist. Along with casino poker managements in Goa and enthusiasts of the game, Suchede has formed an informal pressure group on the social networking website Facebook called Poker Players Alliance.

In the meantime, the Indian Poker Championships were held in Goa over 23-27 January with new tax deduction rules in place for the first time. The turnout, says the tournament’s organiser Peter Abraham, was “exceptional” despite the policy change.

“It is a mystery why TDS was not already in place in tournaments here when the game began in Goa around three years ago. For all these years, players have had it easy in India. If the policy had been in place from the beginning, there would not have been such a hue and cry,” he says.