Poker Loses Its Status as A Sport - Tuesday 28th of July 2009

A government order has stripped poker of its status as a sport, closing a loophole that allowed some former casinos to remain open as card halls after new restrictions on gambling took effect this month.

The Russian Federation of Sport Poker complained in a statement Tuesday that the change left it unclear whether amateur poker players were now breaking the law.

But the government appears to have taken its stand, with police and prosecutors threatening a crackdown and Vitaly Mutko, minister of sports, tourism and youth politics, telling Vedomosti that “poker doesn’t exist as a sport.”

A decree published on the ministry’s web site said the decision was made Friday by a ministerial commission. Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev and Prosecutor General Yury Chaika specifically mentioned poker in a joint decree on Monday, calling on their officers to “decisively clamp down on illegal gambling activity, including that done on the Internet, through poker clubs, fruit machines, etc.”

“We are in mourning,” Dmitry Lesnoi, head of the Russian Federation of Sport Poker, wrote in an emotional statement on the group’s web site. He said the ruling left it unclear whether private poker games were now illegal and whether playing on the Internet or promoting poker was permitted.

A European Poker Tour tournament was scheduled to be held in Moscow for the first time in August, but this is now in doubt, Lesnoi wrote.

Mutko said poker’s registration as a sport in 2007 was invalid. “The decision about accepting a sport into the list should be made by a ministerial commission and not by the leadership of [the Federal Fitness and Sports Agency]. What’s more, the decision should be registered by the Justice Ministry, which wasn’t done,” he said.

He also said the Russian Federation of Sport Poker was registered as a noncommercial partnership and not as a noncommercial organization as required by law.

The sports agency, which was folded into the ministry last year, recognized poker in 2007. The sports list used to include poker variants Omaha, Texas Hold ’Em and Seven Card Stud. In an apparent anomaly, the list still includes bridge, a card game that also requires players to place stakes.

Ironically, a federal program to develop physical activity and sports is partially funded by a national lottery, Gosloto. Lotteries do not fall under the ban on gambling.

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