Indian Supreme Court Case Could Lead to Poker Legalization

August 16th, 2015 | by Kaycee James
India Supreme Court poker rummy

India’s Supreme Court is set to rule on a case regarding rummy clubs, one that could also have an impact on poker’s legality in the country. (Image: The Hindu)

The Indian Supreme Court is currently hearing a case that deals with the legality of playing rummy for money.

But poker players in the country are also paying close attention to the proceedings, as the ruling could potentially lead to the legalization of poker in the nation as well.

The case in question began in Madras back in 2011.

Several gambling organizations, including the Mahalakshmi Cultural Association in Chennai, were sued by the state of Tamil Nadu, questioning whether they could allow rummy to be played for money.

After a single judge ruled that as a game of skill, rummy didn’t constitute gambling, the Madras High Court reversed that decision and ruled against the organizations.

They stated that clubs could not make profits from rummy games, nor could the games be played for stakes.

Precedent Suggests Rummy and Poker Aren’t Gambling

However, lawyers for these groups quickly appealed the ruling, noting that the Indian Supreme Court had classified rummy as a game of skill in 1968.

That, along with another Supreme Court ruling in 1996 that said that games of skill were not classified as gambling, made the basis of their appeal.

Arguments for the Supreme Court appeal are expected to wrap up on Thursday, after which a ruling could come within just a few days. And when that ruling is announced, it could have severe consequences for India’s growing population of poker players as well.

To understand why, it’s important to look at another case: one heard by the High Court of Karnataka in 2013. That case determined that a license was not required for the game of poker, provided that it was played a game of skill.

In that ruling, the court heard arguments that poker required more skill than rummy, and that it should therefore be classified as a game of skill. Thus, the argument goes, if the Supreme Court finds that it is legal to play rummy for real money, it should also apply to poker.

Ruling Won’t Impact Online Gambling

That said, the ruling is unlikely to have any impact on the growing online poker industry in India.

According to Justices Madan B Lokur and SA Bobde, their ruling on the legality of live rummy won’t have any bearing on online rummy sites, a point made in response to questions from online rummy websites concerned about the impact on their businesses should the court rule against the rummy clubs.

While most online poker in India exists in a so-called “grey market,” as there is no regulatory framework for most of the nation. The state of Sikkim recently passed a bill that will allow it to license some online gambling, but that will only provide regulated service to the state, rather than to all of India.

“We hope to start operations by September, once the amended Bill is signed by the governor and notified by the relevant department,” said Manoj Sethi, Director of Golden Gaming International, which hopes to take advantage of the new laws passed on July 30. “We already have the technical and physical infrastructure in place and are only waiting for a go-ahead from the Directorate of State Lotteries.”

Sikkim had first passed a law regulating online gambling in 2008, but the federal government of India did not confirm that gambling could be individually regulated by states until April 2014.

That delay, along with the realization that the licenses would only grant access to one state, diminished early interest from companies like PokerStars and William Hill.

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