Though the order does not specifically make any observation on Poker, if played as a sport and/or without stakes, however, while differentiating between rummy and poker, the Hon’ble Court at para 60 of the said order makes a presumption that wagering or betting is an inseparable part of the game of poker and therefore would involve stake. The Court while holding Poker to be a ‘game of chance’ has also predominantly relied upon moral, religious and social grounds. In the absence of the said order being overruled and the issue being addressed specifically, the game of poker, even if played as a sport and/or without stakes remains a grey area which is then left at the discretion of police authorities.
Game of Skill v. Game of Chance: After going through the State for online gaming laws in India, it is found that, except the State of Orissa and Assam, most of the States have excluded ‘games of skill’ from applicability of its respective gaming/gambling laws. Further, playing certain games including ‘Poker’, both online and offline, is permitted under the laws of West Bengal, Nagaland and Sikkim subject to licence from the appropriate State Authorities. But this would be applicable only in the territorial limits of the respective State. In Goa, online gambling in India legal and permitted only in Government permitted places operated as casinos. In view of the above, it is clear that if a game is considered to be a ‘game of chance’ under the state laws and rulings by the Courts and is played with stakes, would constitute gambling under the respective state laws with exception pertaining to a few states as mentioned above. If an entity is able to show that a particular online game or a particular on-ground gaming activity has preponderance of skill over chance and/or is played as a sport without stakes, it may fall within the exception of gaming/gambling under the state gambling laws. It is pertinent to note however that if online gaming is illegal in any State, the promotion of the same in such State would amount to violation of ASCI Code as well as Cable TV Network Regulation Act, 1994.
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The issue whether Poker is a ‘game of skill’ or a ‘game of chance’ was never discussed in detail by any Court in India until the recent decision/order dated December 4, 2017 passed by Gujrat High Court in Dominance Games Pvt. Ltd. V. State of Gujarat, wherein, the said issue was extensively pondered upon. The Court in its said decision held that Poker is a ‘game of chance’ and therefore amounts to gambling under Gujarat Prevention of Gambling Act, 1887. While arriving at the aforesaid decision, the Court inter alia observed the following: The issue of online gambling regulations in India still remains a grey area which is yet to be adjudicated by Courts of India that, Is online gaming legal in India. Having said that, necessary inferences can be drawn from orders passed by the Court while deciding the issue of whether a particular game is a ‘game of skill’ or a ‘game of chance’. But the issue of whether a ‘game of chance’, if played like a sport without stakes amounts to gambling or not? still remains largely undecided. There has been a substantial discussion by the Supreme Court and High Court on what constitutes a ‘game of skill’ and a ‘game of chance’. What is deduced from the judgments is that a game where there is preponderance of skill over chance is a ‘game of skill’ and vice-versa. Game of skills, if played with stakes does not amount to gambling; ABOUT THE AUTHOR Arbitration Amidst Covid-19