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India’s gambling laws are quite restrictive, and in spite of this falling for the most part to individual states to decide, as is the case in the United States for instance, India still does have some central law on gambling that applies everywhere in the country.
The Public Gambling Act of 1867, which applies to all of India, makes it a crime to either run a “public gaming house” or to even be present at one, and provides criminal penalties for both. (1)
The fact that this law is still in effect after almost 150 years tells us that this isn’t the most progressive country when it comes to gambling, and that is certainly true. One of the things they do distinguish between is something that does play a big role in contemporary gambling law though, and that’s the distinction between games of skill and games of chance, with only the latter falling under the law.
According to the Supreme Court of India, while games of chance are illegal, games that are based upon a preponderance of skill are not . The landmark decision here involved betting on rummy games, although it is assumed that poker would be a game of skill as well under the same criteria.
This is especially likely since with rummy the court found that the falling of the cards, even though it does involve an element of chance, did include the impact of skill enough for them to determine that rummy is involves a preponderance of skill, which is the criteria they were looking for to exclude it as a game of chance..
This is exactly how poker works as well though. In a case where a poker club was busted, the matter came before the Madras High Court in India who ruled that the skill element of poker indeed did not make it a game of chance and therefore illegal. The India Supreme Court has yet to rule on this but it is likely they will agree, and this may end up having a significant impact on poker playing in India should the decision go the way poker players hope. (2)
Since gambling is decided primarily at the state level though, this may not be as decisive as some think it would, as all this would do is strike down a federal law applying to poker, but states still could come up with their own laws, as they do anyway. Still though, the impact of a Supreme Court decision of this magnitude in favor of poker would certainly be persuasive to some degree at least.
In a real sense, the Public Gaming Law of India really is only a law on paper, at least since the Indian Constitution gave individual states the right to decide these matters on their own, but the fact that the parties are fighting this out in the courts does show that this does matter.
Live Poker In India
Legal gambling in India is limited to playing the lottery, in most states, as once again individual states do have the power to make their own legislation. To put it simply, the general laws of India concerning gambling apply unless a state specifically sanctions it. So most have sanctioned lotteries, which would otherwise certainly qualify as a game of chance, but they can still be permitted if the law provides for it.
Two Indian states, Goa and Sikkim, have other forms of gambling, so India differs from a lot of other countries, this way, and therefore we can’t speak of a common practice or laws in India towards gambling as we usually do.
While there are no legal casinos in most of India, nor are they permitted legally, Goa has a total of 7 land-based casinos, as well as several offshore ones. The gambling though is limited by law to “electronic amusement.” However, the offshore casinos do offer poker as well as other table games, and there are a total of 2 of these currently, the Casino Pride Panaj with 6 poker tables, and the Casino Pride 2 with 8 tables. (3)
The other Indian state with more expansive gambling, Sikkam, even has licensed online gambling and online poker. It is up and running as well, and features several licensed poker sites, the largest of which is adda52.com, which even has a team of sponsored Indian poker pros.
Unlike Goa, Sikkam’s land based casinos do offer table games, and there are 2 land based casinos in Sikkam that offer live poker, Casino Sikkam and Casino Mahjong. (4) Another Indian state, Daman, is also preparing to offer more extensive gambling, and the intention seems to be to want to go even bigger than their sister states, although there haven’t been any casinos or live poker rooms built there as of yet. (5)
Live Dealer Casinos in India
Poker is not the only thing of interest to consumers in India. We’ve also seen a major spike in popularity of live dealer casino games in the region over the last couple of years.
In fact the Indian players are so keen to play with live dealers that one the market leaders, Evolution Gaming, are now opening up a studio with native Hindi speaking dealers just to offer a better tailored service. This is expected to go live in Q3 of 2019.
The live dealer craze has been widespread for years now, with interest really starting to hit India, where online casino games are already popular amongst the residents in the country. It will be interesting to see just how far the growth goes here as it is clearly one of the largest countries in Asia and have a huge audience to market to in the decades to come.
Online Poker In India
Aside from the licensed online poker in Sikkam, which is limited to residents of Sikkam, or at least is supposed to be, India does not have any licensed or approved online poker rooms. Residents in all other states are not supposed to be playing online poker, but of course they do anyway, just like people in all parts of the world do regardless of whether their governments approve in their doing so or not.
Elsewhere, online gambling in India is said to be a very complicated subject, to the extent that there is quite a bit of debate as well as some uncertainty as to whether gambling online, and playing poker online, is legal or not.
There is a central law that applies here, the Information Technology Act of 2000, in addition to the aforementioned Public Gaming Act of 1867, and of course the laws of individual states. Different types of games are viewed differently here as well, as casino games are seen as different from card games such as poker, for instance. (6)
It is felt that it is legal for online poker players to play on legal poker sites in India, but the rub here is that it isn’t all that clear what would constitute a legal online poker site in India, and this remains a grey area as far as the law is concerned. (7)
In some circumstances, online gambling sites may be blocked, although as always, this doesn’t do much to stop people from playing where they want as they simply find ways around this, though downloading the software by connecting through a VPN.
This is what is going on right now, as online poker players in India are just playing poker and generally don’t worry about whether or not it may be illegal or not, while the legal system works out whether or not it is legal for them to do so or not, because no one is worried about this really.
This is a huge potential market and is relatively untapped, and as the years go by it’s likely that India will continue to capture a bigger and bigger slice of the online poker pie as they move up the rankings.
4. India Poker