What should have been a monumentous event for the poker community in India, ended up being its darkest night. For it left players, organisers, and media equally aghast and plunged the burgeoning poker space of Bangalore into a deep chasm. The day was 6th August, 2016. But we may in time, come to call it Black Saturday of Indian Poker.
The Galactic Poker Tour had been until that point the largest ever in India (outside of Goa) both in terms of turnout as well as prize pool. The previous day had seen a mammoth 199 players register for the Warm-up Event. The excitement had been palpable. Enough to even convince many pros and others alike that it would be worth their time to make the trip to Bangalore for the Main Event at a day’s notice. And the Main Event itself had 178 registrations bringing the prize pool to 40.09 Lac.
But that was about as good as it got.
At about 12:30 in the night, with 100 players still very much in the mix for the ME, a team of about 20 cops (CCB according to certain sources) reached Rockets Poker room on 100 feet road in plain clothes and proceeded up the building in 2 banks, one from the front and the other from the back. They reached the main room and closed both exits with guards posted at each one.
It took the players a while to realise what was happening and play continued for about 15 minutes after the entrances were blocked. Once the cops had removed the video camera recorders, the players were told to move to one side of the room and form a queue. They were then made to clear out their pockets of every last rupee; without so much as a record of who had been confiscated of how much. While irregular and quite possibly illegal, things got even worse when one of the players was asked to remove his shirt to prove he wasn’t hiding any money underneath.
After this every person in the room had their names, address, occupation and family details recorded. The cops double and triple checked to see that they’d gotten everyone’s details. With almost 200 individuals in the room, this process took a considerable amount of time and the players were made to sit on the floor through it all.
And this was not all. After almost 3 hours in, the cops randomly started selecting people for another round of screening, most probably under the belief that they were hiding some of their money. Localites were also segregated and detained further for unknown reasons. Women were the first to be allowed to leave and those from outside Bangalore were next.
Amidst all this, Santosh Suvarna, the owner of Rockets Poker Room, was seen trying to talk to the cops and find a solution out of this. It is unclear what was said, but certain sources have quoted that the raid had been under the pretext that poker rooms cannot operate post 11 pm. Whatever the reason, it does not explain why players’ were looted of their personal money. Santosh had this to say via the Galaxy Poker page the following day: “We are sorry for what happened yesterday and it was very unfortunate. Request your support at this difficult time. We are doing whatever possible at our end to compensate for the loss. Sincere apologies for all the inconvenience caused. Allow us couple of days to get back to you. Thank you all for your support”
Santosh on a telephonic conversation told PokerShots that the Rockets team is considering to compensate the loss of all the players who had paid Rs 25,000 to play in the PGT main event by setting up another tournament that will be hosted on PokerGalaxy.com with the same prize pool. If this goes through, all the players who had participated in the ME will be able to play the online tournament without paying a penny.
Why this entire episode happened and what are the legalities of Bangalore poker is unclear. Why the cops did not simply coordinate with the organisers and individuals had their money confiscated is also unclear. But what is clear is that in no circumstances is this good for poker. A small but steady community, poker players in India had never anticipated things to get out of hand so drastically. And while there has been a rally of support for Santosh Suvarna and his team on social media, a clear plan of action to ensure that something like this never happens again, is as of now unclear. A bad hand has been dealt to us all. The question is will we try to win this hand or simply fold?