Deaf Poker Tour in Philadelphia amplifies unique needs of the Deaf community

The Deaf Poker Tour held its first tournament in Philadelphia over the weekend. It’s a poker event for Deaf and hard of hearing poker players.

"Loud. Very loud. And, when the competition becomes heated? Oh yeah, it becomes loud," Jay Levine, head of the tour for the past 15 years, signed as an interpreter spoke out-loud.

Explosions of emotion are nothing unusual in a casino, but when the Deaf Poker Tour is in town, one listens with the eyes because hands do the talking.

"Gestures, hand cues and, sometimes, the difficulty with communication, especially with COVID, is that a lot of dealers are wearing masks, so the gesturing is a lot more important than it used to be," Levine explained.

Levine has run the tour for 15 years. It’s a hub for Deaf poker lovers like Andrea, grand champion of the last get-together.

"Good competition, definitely good. And, the Deaf people are crazy, sometimes, even more than the hearing people are. It’s really enjoyable. The competition is crazy," Andrea remarked, through an interpreter.

The Deaf Poker Tour is fun, at face value, but it’s become an amplifier to make the hearing world understand unique deaf needs at casinos anywhere. Anne Tran, Director pf Poker at Live Casino South Philly, saw an opportunity.

"The wonderful thing about the Deaf Poker Tour is that we are able to embrace the Deaf community and the hearing world and to provide poker together and play. It brings the group together and we can learn the culture and learn the language. It’s wonderful," Tan explained.

The action is good and tense. Live’s specially trained dealers call for bets with a gesture. Players accept, refuse or fold with the flip of a hand. They converse in American Sign Language, but outside of a Deaf tournament, just like Spanish or French, it is prohibited at a conventional casino [poker table.

"Really, the policies, they don’t allow any foreigners to speak any foreign language. Only English is permitted at the table. So, if they speak any foreign language and they have cards in their hands at the same time? They are not allowed to speak while the cards are in their hands. They have to fold," Levine said.