On Saturday, March 20, the country’s Department of Physical Education and Sports (LSPF) now officially recognizes poker as a sport, and the Lithuanian Sports Poker Federation as an official sports federation. The change was announced through a news release on the LSPF website. The new status of poker is expected to bring a wave of change to the country’s poker industry, and may affect where and how the game is played, both online and offline.
Gambling in Lithuania is fairly new. It was only legalized in 2001, after almost 7 years of lobbying by the National Gambling and Gaming Business Association. The country’s gambling industry has been slow to grow, and today only 12 casinos are available to choose from, giving the game of poker a rather limited exposure across the country.
The most immediate change that Lithuania’s poker fans will see is an increase in the number of poker tournaments available to them. The new categorization of the game means that the Lithuanian Sports Poker Federation will now be able to organize non-commercial poker tournaments. The Federation plans to dive right in, and is already planning an inaugural LSPF tournament, which will be held April 24-26 in Vilnius. The organizers expect the event to be the largest sports poker tournament ever held in the Baltic.
It is not yet known how the new poker classification will affect the status internet poker. Today, there are no official online poker sites in Lithuania. The reason for this is a lack of legislation discussing the legality of internet gambling in the country. Licenses are not given to local groups that would allow them to offer online poker services. Instead, anyone who wants to play online poker in Lithuania simply uses foreign internet poker sites. The explosion in the popularity of poker that is expected to come of the new ruling, however, may soon change all of this, bringing the issue of legalizing internet poker to the forefront.