LAPT9 Bahamas: Reporting on the Brazilian "boom"
"2016 is going to be the best year for poker in Brazil"
So said Team PokerStars Pro Andre Akkari in response to a question at the first "Breakfast with the Pros" Q&A session of the festival prior to the start of play today at the 2016 PCA. The LAPT9 Bahamas Main Event has just gotten underway, and it was fitting to have Akkari and his fellow Brazilian and Friend of Team PokerStars Felipe "Mojave" Ramos lead a conversation about the incredible boom in poker's popularity in their native country, and its prospects going forward.
More than 20,000 players participated in the Brazilian Series of Poker Millions in São Paulo in November, including nearly 4,000 entries in the BSOP São Paulo Main Event. Having just completed its 10th season, the BSOP is bigger than ever.
"It looks like the WSOP," explained Akkari, referring to the only other tournament series in the world that presently exceeds the BSOP in terms of participation.
Those of us who were there can attest to Akkari's observation (click to enlarge):
As the pair explained, the Brazilian "boom" hasn't been an overnight occurrence, but has been gradually developing over the last decade. It's an interesting story, and for Americans in particular poker's history in Brazil in some respects seems familiar, but in others differs markedly.
As in the U.S., poker's legacy in Brazil includes some negative connotations. But the lack of casinos in the country coupled with the licensing of poker rooms has produced an interesting effect, helping create a climate in which poker is much more readily associated not with gambling, but with sports.
"I'm very proud of the growth of poker in Brazil," explained Akkari, going on to describe in detail the efforts of himself and others to teach the game and emphasize its skill component. The lifting of legal prohibitions and granting of licenses to establishments to offer poker have helped make the game more popular than ever, as reflected by the BSOP's remarkable growth.
Without other casino games against which to compete, poker helps satisfies a demand for those who enjoy games that do involve a chance element. And with soccer being the country's most popular sport by a wide margin -- "it's our only sport, really" explains Akkari -- poker has also helped provide a way to satisfy Brazilians' love of competition, including for non-footballers.
"We are a very competitive people," said Ramos with a grin.
Akkari made an interesting point about how even though most Brazilians recognize and appreciate poker's skill component, many still enjoy the game even without having studied it as intensely as he and Ramos have.
"It's like soccer," said Akkari. "We both play soccer, and I'm more than sure Neymar Jr is better at it than I am."
"Me, too!" chimed Ramos.
"But I still play soccer and enjoy it," Akkari continued. "And poker is similar in that way. Many, many love the game, regardless of their skill."
Looking ahead to 2016, it sounds as though after many years of fighting for poker, now the game has become coveted by various factions. A downturn in Brazil's economy has made poker more attractive to legislators as a revenue creator, who are also now entertaining the introduction of casinos and other gambling games to help reinvigorate the country as a whole.
As Akkari explained, there are some interested now in bringing poker over into these new casinos, which would thus necessarily associate the game more directly with other gambling games. Meanwhile the sports ministry wants to keep poker under its aegis, if it can.
It's an interesting problem to have. After years of lifting poker out of obscurity and into the mainstream, now everyone wants to join the poker bandwagon. Whatever results, the pair explained, the game should continue to become only more popular going forward.
It was a most informative Q&A from the pair. And it should prove intriguing to see just what happens with poker in Brazil as it continues to enjoy its own "boom."
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Take a look at the official website of the PCA, with tournament schedule, videos, news, blogs and accommodation details for the Atlantis Resort in The Bahamas.
Martin Harris is Freelance Contributor to the PokerStars Blog.