HC reiterates Poker is a game of skill

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The ongoing crusade of poker being classified as a game of skill rather than chance, received further impetus in late August. The Calcutta High Court reiterated its previous stance declaring that poker is a game of skill and therefore law enforcement cannot disrupt or interfere in any poker games which are conducted in any clubs.

This matter initially arose when the Indian Poker Association, which was conducting poker games at a Siliguri hotel, got raided by the police and its club members were harassed. The IPA then filed a case in the Calcutta High Court citing a judgement passed by the principle bench being the Writ Petition No.13728 (w) of 2015 by Honourable Justice Shri Dipankar Dutta, "...wherein it was held, in consonance with the definition of “gaming or gambling” under Section 2(1)(b) of the West Bengal Gambling and Prize Competitions Act, 1957, that poker is not included either in gaming or gambling and, therefore, if anyone indulges in playing such game without indulging in any other overt act, which could be treated as amounting to an offense, the same does not attract police interference." The act clearly states that poker, along with some other games, is specifically excluded from the definition of "gaming or gambling". In the said judgment, it was also mentioned that playing of poker shall not result in unnecessary harassment of the players by law enforcement. 

The latest order passed on 29 August 2019 by the Honourable Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharyya of Jalpaiguri circuit bench, Calcutta High Court stated, “Since the game of poker ipso facto is not included within the purview of the West Bengal Gambling and Prize Competitions Act, 1957, without there being a specific complaint with regard to the petitioners resorting to gambling or other illegal activity in the name of poker, there cannot be any occasion for the police to interfere with such game."

The HC order further stated, "Accordingly, W.P.A. No. 394 of 2019 is disposed of by directing the respondents not to interfere with the games of poker going on between the members of the petitioner no. 1 at the rented room at the Hotel Tourist Inn at Sevoke Road in Siliguri, unless there is a specific complaint against the petitioners that they are resorting to gambling or undertaking any unlawful activity in the garb of the game of poker in the said room."

This is not the first time the Indian Poker Association has been in the midst getting a ruling in favour of poker as being a sport that does not come under the purview of gambling. Back in 2015, the IPA which is led by Bangalore-based legal eagle KN Suresh, had received a positive order from the Calcutta High Court directing various authorities like the police, municipal, state and others not to interfere in the poker games conducted by the petitioner, Suresh and his club IPA. This order was considered a major victory by poker enthusiasts across the country and of course in Kolkata as well. The positive ruling then led to a number of poker rooms opening up in the City of Joy. This latest order once again prohibits any harassment by the police warned them that while they should any complaint which comes up, "... but that would not give the police an unlimited license to enter into the room-in-question and go on a rampage in the garb of investigation, without a specific arrest warrant or a permission from the appropriate authorities."

Kolkata holds an important place in online poker as well as many of the Indian online poker platforms have their registered offices in this city due to the afore-mentioned section of The West Bengal Act of 1957. With the burgeoning growth of online poker in the past several years, this latest judgement has brought a lot of cheer to the online poker operators as well. Amin Rozani, CEO and co-founder of Spartan Poker, hailed the Calcutta High Court's order as a very positive move for the domestic poker industry, "Of course, people like us who have been part of the industry for close to a decade are well aware that poker is a skill game, a mind sport if you will. It is slowly moving into the mainstream consciousness as the mental acuity required in poker holds a lot of appeal to the new generation of gamers. This Calcutta HC order is a heartening one for poker in India and I am sure the game will continue to flourish with more such positive rulings coming forth in the future as well."

Indeed poker is the game of choice for the Indian youth and this has also been highlighted by the revitalisation of the domestic poker scene with a number of live poker tournaments making a return to Goa. This includes the recent India Poker Championship's September edition which drew stellar attendance from poker enthusiasts across the country and even had the 'King of Instagram' Dan Bilzerian being part of the festivities. Globally too, several young Indian players have made their mark by winning title bracelets at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) in recent years. The WSOP is consider by many to be the Olympics of poker and with India stamping its mark at the highest levels in this game, the next generation of world champions are certainly going to emerge from this part of the world.

Article by Peter Abraham – Director Gutshot magazine

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