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New criminal case ruling underlines the complexity of the legal situation of Poker in India

When it comes to poker laws in India, it is much like the United States with individual states given the green light on deciding the game’s fate. While some high court officials, such as in Karnataka and Kolkata, have ruled poker as a game of skill, the Bombay High Court begged to differ. Just days ago, the high court ruled poker as a game of pure chance categorizing it as a gambling and illegal activity. The decision undoubtedly dealt a terrible bad beat to the players in the state of Maharashtra.

Poker: Luck or Skill

Bombay High Court deems poker to be a game of “chance” in the Patel case

The recent Bombay High Court ruling revolves around a police raid that took place on September 8, 2016 at an apartment in Goregoan, Mumbai City. At the time of the raid, a multi-table private poker game was taking place hosted by home-owner Nasir Patel head of operations for the Spartan Poker online Indian site.

Patel and 29 others were then taken into custody with all but Patel eventually released with a small fine. Patel was charged with multiple offences under the Maharashtra Prevention of Gambling Act. He immediately filed a writ petition to dismiss the charges against him stressing three key points that show no law was broken:

  • Playing poker with friends at his private home with no money involved
  • No license is required to hold a private poker game amongst friends
  • Poker is a game of skill therefore it is exempt from the Maharashtra Prevention Gambling Act

Despite his efforts, the Bombay High Court released their decision which was not favorable to Patel nor to poker. Before their final judgment, the Bombay High Court heard statements from Senior Counsel Amit Desai who argued on poker’s worldwide acceptance as a game of skill adding in Kolkata and Karnataka. This could have prompted them to make a slight change in their final statement, changing poker to “cards”,

“The gravamen of the allegations is contained in the said F.I.R.. It is alleged that the Petitioner herein is one of the accused who was found playing the game of “Cards”. We have perused the F.I.R. which gives the description as to how the said game is played. On such perusal, we find that in the said game, as described in the F.I.R., there is no element of skill and it appears to be purely a game of chance and the winner is chosen on the basis of cards, which are received by him on distribution in the said game and the winner also receives the prize in cash on the said basis.”

Clearly the main issue is whether or not Patel was running a common gaming house for commercial or monetary benefits. Due to this ruling, Patel could face up to two year imprisonment and added fines.

Legal status in India remain complex

While poker is widely accepted as a game of skill, especially online, rulings from local courts and police interventions show an unclear picture. Two years ago, poker in Bengaluru experienced a massive shakedown with police raiding Rockets Poker Room thus disrupting the ongoing Poker Galactica Live Tour. This was not the first time authorities raided a poker event in India. Through the years, poker clubs have been targets of local police causing players to take the fight to court.

In December 2017, the state of Gujarat High Court rejected a petition filed by numerous Indian poker clubs asking for poker to be recognized as a game of skill. If passed, this would greatly help in deterring the police raids. However the high court saw otherwise and branded poker as “gambling and illegal”. The Indian Poker Association immediately filed an appeal.

It is situations such as these that show the real vulnerability of poker in India. There are always big repercussions. Due to the Gujarat ruling, PokerStars decided to ban players from Gujarat on their site. With Maharashtra now seeing somewhat eye-to-eye with Gujarat, online poker players there may soon experience the same ban as well. It is likely they will be denied access to the new India-dedicated PokerStars site.

Article by Triccia David


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