The Czech Republic's estimated 60 000 poker players are contemplating a brighter future through government reviews of the country's gambling laws, reports the Prague Post this week. Organisations like the Czech Association of Poker Clubs are lobbying government to declare poker a sport, thereby reducing the risk of crime in a pastime that is growing increasingly popular with Czechs.
The Association has enlisted the professional services of Ernst & Young to aid the campaign, as government officials in the Finance ministry prepare to introduce a new gambling legalization that will streamline national regulations for gambling, currently prohibited outside of land casinos. Draft legalization is due for presentation late 2008, and the Association wants to make sure its input is considered in the drafting process.
Ministry spokeswoman Zuzana Chocholová confirmed to the Prague Post that poker was currently not recognised as a sport, but would not comment on the contents of the upcoming legalization, saying only that poker outside of casinos is permitted in the Czech Republic, provided the game is played without any monetary stakes.
"Players disagree with the ministry’s assessment of the game," the newspaper reported, "…although large sums of money are often involved, poker itself is comparable with other sports, though relying on mathematical and psychological skills as opposed to physical."
According to Chocholová, the hosting of poker tournaments, as well as the fact that the game has only recently become popular in the country, could potentially prevent the game’s reclassification. “The [Poker Club] association is trying to exempt poker tournaments from the lottery legalization,” she said, “These poker tournaments are the phenomenon of the past two years, and [permission is given] just for tournaments in casinos.”
Czech players are apparently between ages 18 and 30, and are overwhelming male, with women comprising only 10 percent of the national demographic, the newspaper reported. "While there are a few professional players living in the Czech Republic, most see it simply as recreation and a way to escape the monotony of their working lives," it advised.
“Young people see poker as a form of entertainment and even a lifestyle,” a spokesman for the Czech Association of Poker Clubs said, adding that Internet gaming helps to introduce the game to new fans every day.