Wearing a dark suit, Amin Rozani sat in one of the boardrooms at Lalit Great Eastern Hotel, Kolkata, talking to journalists. The 36-year-old entrepreneur started his career working in a BPO and one fine day decided to try his hand at poker.
Rozani recalls when he first played a free game on a Facebook game app called Zynga Poker. And the rest was history. After having acquired a taste for it, he went to Macau with a friend and made a quick profit of HKD 4,000 from playing at casinos there.
Realising his passion for the game, Rozani came back to Bombay and started organising small games. Eventually, the stakes kept getting higher and he realised that the garage is no longer a place where he can run this from.
So, he made a deal with a casino in Goa, where he ran a room of 15 poker tables for two years. Rozani and his friends then saw the benefits of using the Internet and Spartan Poker was born. Excerpts:
Q Do you believe poker is a game of chance or skill? Why so?
Skill – for sure. The features of the game are very competitive. It’s not a card game at all. I can have cards worse than you and still win the game. I just have to be a better Poker player.
I just need to read you well, need to put pressure, and play my strategy correctly. Everybody gets two cards and what they say about Poker is—don’t play the cards, play the person and that is exactly what it is.
Q When you began to play poker and started off slow and you got to a point where you were also playing big, was there any issue with getting into debt or gambling?
I’ve been a mathematician all my life. So, I manage my bankroll pretty well. I treat poker as a sport and I keep a separate budget for it. From that budget, whatever I make, I keep it aside and that’s my bankroll for poker. So, even if I have a bad day or I go against tough players for that particular game, or even for a week, my bankroll is stable enough to fund other games.
But yes, I know people who do go overboard, who do get emotional. But that could happen with anything. That could happen with shopping as well.
Q What would you say to people who are starting off with poker and there’s always this risk of getting too deep in the game?
Well, I would first tell them that anybody who wants to play poker should build a separate bankroll. In case they are unable to build that bankroll, I would say they should go back to basics. There are so many websites online that provide free games. For example, there are games on Spartan Poker where you don’t have to invest anything.
You just come and login to the site; you play for free and compete with people; if you win, you still get some money back. Spartan gives you that money to experiment and build your bankroll.
Q What was your vision for Spartan Poker when you started off?
It’s Poker Stars, the biggest online poker platform in the US. A part of it for Spartan as a brand, we want it to be as big, if not bigger than Poker Stars. That is what we are aiming for.
But at the same time we also have love for the sport. We are one of the first few people who got this sport from outside the country. So, yes for me, the product that we are trying to sell is poker.
We want a lot of youngsters to actually make a career out of it and make it a full-fledged industry. But yes, a billion dollar valuation is something we would definitely like.
Q Have you ever held yourself responsible for people’s addiction to the game?
Poker has two aspects. One aspect is people who play this professionally. The others are recreational players. So, those recreational players, they play it for entertainment. Now, there are a lot of businesses that I would want to do where people will come and spend money for entertainment.
For example, if I open a sports room or a bar or I probably open a movie theatre or a shopping mall, people will come and spend. Few people would probably rate their emotions higher and overspend. Few people would spend in their limit. Here, I wouldn’t say I hold myself responsible for individual behaviour.
Q What does Spartan Poker do to make sure players have a choice of playing the game without getting in too deep?
Yes, we continuously inform and educate players. In fact, on our website there is an option called responsible gaming. So, in case somebody feels they are going to overspend, they can just click on that and say that block me for another 30 days or put a limit on the money I can spend.
So, these are the different options we give them to make sure sometimes that emotion doesn’t take over and they can build a profit for themselves.