Bombay High Court rules poker to be a game of chance, calls it gambling

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As per reports, the Bombay High Court on March 28, 2018 has ruled that the game of poker is not a game of ‘skill’ but one of ‘chance’. The decision came in a quashing petition filed by Nasir Patel where the division bench of Justices RM Sawant and Sarang Kotwal refused to quash the police complaint against the petitioner who has been charged under various sections of the Maharashtra Prevention of Gambling Act, 1887.

Update: Read order here.

The bench further observed: “We have perused the description of the game, we find that it is not a game of skill but of pure chance. Prima facie we find that a case under the gambling act has been made out.”

The Bench was further reported to be saying, “How can poker be a game of skill? You simply get the cards and open it, and if chance be, you will win.”

The court accordingly rejected the petition filed by Nasir Patel. Dismissing the petition, the court also vacated the interim relief, restraining the police from filing a charge sheet in the case registered by them in 2016.

As mentioned in my post here, Nasir Patel had moved the court, seeking to quash a case registered against 29 persons who were caught playing a game of poker during a police raid at an apartment in Goregaon.

The Petitioner had contended that the Karnataka High Court and other High Courts of India have clearly held that poker is a game of skill and if the same is played without flouting any norms in accordance with law, it’s not an offense. The petitioner had also contended that there is no prima facie case to establish as to how a card game of Poker, being played among friends, within the four boundaries at a private place could be a gamble, until the same is not prohibited by any law. Accordingly, he had prayed for the FIR to be quashed and set aside.

According to the police, on receipt of a tip-off that some people were gambling, in an apartment, a raid was conducted and they found that two tables with eight chairs surrounding them, were placed and people were using coins to play the game of poker. It is alleged that Nasir Patel, when questioned said that he was the cashier and also operating the gambling den. Accordingly, police had arrested 29 people, but the magistrate had soon granted them bail.

The petition claimed that police failed to consider that no gamble was being done, but it was a private entertainment party with friends and Poker was being played for entertainment purposes only.

The Bombay High Court had earlier vide its order dated January 12, 2018 stayed the filing of the chargesheet against Nasir Patel on the grounds that the copy of the petition served by Patel’s lawyer on the public prosecutor was not legible.

In Indian Poker Association & Ors vs State of Karnataka [Writ Petition Nos .39167 to 39169 OF 2013 (GM-POLICE)], [ Read order here] the Karnataka High Court had ruled the game of poker to be a game of skill and further held that license is not contemplated and that one can conduct such games, provided, the same is in accordance with law.

 Further, in the case of Shri Kizhakke Naduvath Suresh, Indian Poker Association v/s The State of West Bengal & Ors [W. P. No. 13728 (W) OF 2015], the Calcutta High Court had held that “Provisions of the West Bengal Gambling and Prize Competitions Act, 1957 and in particular the definition of “gaming or gambling” under section 2(1) (b) thereof reveal 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 offence, the same does not attract police interference. It is accordingly directed that playing the game of poker shall not result in unnecessary harassment of the players by the respondents.”

The appeal filed by Indian Poker Association before the Gujarat High Court on legality of Poker is still pending before the Gujarat High Court and listed on April 3, 2018. The appeal has been filed against the order passed by Justice Rajesh H Shukla that ruled poker to be a game of chance and an activity falling under the definition of gambling.

The Bombay High Court order has not yet been uploaded and therefore the exact contents of the order are not yet known. However, the conflicting decisions passed by different high courts on whether poker is a game of skill or chance have only added to the confusion. The uncertainty regarding the applicability of State gambling enactments would continue to persist until a Supreme Court decision on this subject.

In India, the Public Gambling Act, 1867 is the central enactment governing gambling in India and has been adopted by certain states. However, under the Constitution of India, the state legislatures have been entrusted with the power to frame state specific laws on ‘betting and gambling’, hence several other states have enacted their own legislation to regulate and govern gaming/gambling activities within their territory.

Image source: here