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The future of poker in India has been on shaky grounds of late, with several legal setbacks putting a question mark on the lawful existence of the game in a few states.
Bringing a ray of hope amid the current scenario has been the appeal application filed by secretary of Indian Poker Association (IPA), KN Suresh against the December 2017 order of the single bench of the Gujarat High Court.
According to a report published by GLaws, “the letters patent appeal against a single judge’s order ruling poker to be gambling is now set to be heard by a new division bench of the Gujarat High Court on December 21, 2018.”
The initial proceedings were put into motion by Suresh in 2017 before a single judge bench of the Gujarat High Court. Following an incident in Gujarat where the Ahmedabad police raided the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) poker club and took into custody several players found to be playing poker, Suresh had, in the mentioned petition claimed that the police were wrong in giving a written response that poker is a game of chance.
A single judge bench of the High Court comprising of Justice Rajesh Shukla on December 4, 2017, ruled that the game of poker does not involve skill and falls within the ambit of gambling. The court had cited judgments of foreign countries and various articles to say that poker originated from the game of ‘Flash’, which is referred to as ‘Teen Patti’ in India. The Supreme Court has also concluded that ‘Brag’, ‘Flash’ and ‘Teen Patti’ are games of chance.
“Therefore, as a necessary corollary, Poker as its variant must also fall in the category of a game of chance,” the HC order read. “Even if it is a game of skill, but played with stakes, it may be considered gambling. Thus, there are reasons why the terms ‘bad luck’, ‘bad beat’ and ‘unlucky streak’ exist,” the order stated.
This ruling spelled disaster for the poker community in the western state leading to poker operators shutting shop and withdrawing all services for players residing in Gujarat.
Left with no option, Suresh and other poker operators filed a letters patent appeal before a two-judge bench of the High Court challenging the single judge’s order. It was scheduled to be heard on October 15 but was adjourned without hearing. The hearing on the appeals have since then not seen substantial progress and have been adjourned without significant arguments on at least ten previous occasions.
The matter has been listed before a division bench comprising of Chief Justice R. Subhash Reddy and Justice Vipul Pancholi, but following Justice Reddy’s posting to the Supreme Court, it is possible that the matter will be heard by a new bench on December 21.
Chief Justice R. Subhash Reddy & Justice Vipul Pancholi
Suresh has been a tireless crusader in the campaign for legitimizing poker in India. In 2013, he had petitioned the Karnataka High Court, in the case ‘Indian Poker Association v. State of Karnataka’, wherein the court observed that poker could be played as a game of skill and directed the police not to interfere with the lawful activities of IPA.
In 2015, he had filed a writ petition in the Calcutta High Court seeking interference-free functioning of his upcoming poker club, for which he had partnered with Aditya ‘Bitti’ Agarwal, in the city. The petitioned was filed after police had visited the premises of the IPA poker room at the Princeton Club on June 18, 2015.
Suresh used a long-forgotten law under Section 2(B) of The West Bengal Prize Competition and Gambling Act, 1957, which excludes poker, rummy and nap from the ambit of gambling in his case, ‘Kizhakke Naduvath Suresh v. State of West Bengal & Others’. The matter was presided over by Justice Dipankar Datta and on July 2, 2015, the Judge passed a positive decision, allowing unhindered continuation of the poker room.
The landmark judgement was considered a milestone in the history of Indian poker with the opening up of another state for legal play of the game.
However with the uncertain fate of the game in Gujarat, the legal indistinctness surrounding poker in the state still persists.