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The poker industry seems to be in a state of limbo at the moment. There is no doubt that it is a great time to be a poker player in the country, with brands like Spartan Poker and PokerBaazi reviving the live poker scene in Goa with their phenomenally successful comeback series. Side-by-side, the leading online poker sites have also been consistently offering lucrative promotions to their player bases, along with tax perks.
Despite all the growth and development, roadblocks still keep popping up, and the most recent one has come in the form of a fresh Public Interest Litigation (PIL).
Filing PILs against poker or even the gaming industry is not a new thing in India. In 2016, Kashinath Shetye had filed a PIL in the Goa High Court (HC) challenging the operations of the offshore casinos in the River Mandovi. More recently, Advocate Gurdeep Singh Sachar had filed a PIL against Dream11 claiming that the company’s offerings comprised of games of chance and qualify as gambling.
More recently, chartered accountant and social activist Avinash Mehrotra had filed a PIL for blocking all poker, online gambling and betting websites with the Delhi High Court. Mehrotra’s petition was heard by a division bench comprising of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice Brijesh Sethi, and they refused to grant any interim injunction as argued by Mehrotra’s lawyers. However, the court did seek the government’s response to the petition, which was seeking a blanket ban on gaming websites while listing the matter for November 28.
A similar PIL was filed last week by Deepti Bhagat once again with the Delhi High Court.
A division bench comprising of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice C. Hari Shankar presided over Bhagat’s petition. The bench issued a notice to the Finance Ministry and the Delhi government, asking them to indicate their stand on the plea, which has sought a ban on poker and similar card games like rummy, bridge, and teen patti.
When Bhagat had initially filed her petition last week, the bench had declined to consider the plea as she had failed to explain what the game of poker entailed. Subsequently, she moved her petition afresh after including an explanation of how the game is played.
According to reports, Bhagat has contended that as the player has no control over the kind of cards being dealt, poker was a game of chance and not skill and, therefore, playing it for high stakes or profit amounts to gambling and is illegal.
Bhagat has asked for the cancellation of licenses that have been issued to companies for hosting poker and/or similar card games. She has also sought a ban on advertising of such games. Bhagat has further stated that the “petition was in public interest as thousands of families face monetary crisis due to gambling activities of a family member.”
The court has listed the petition for hearing on November 28, along with Mehrotra’s matter, since both PIL`s have a similar premise and are seeking almost identical reliefs.