Poker Gains More Legal Ground in India
A recent favorable court decision by India’s High Court of Calcutta has turned into another advancement for poker’s availability in the world’s most populous country. As a result of the Jalpaiguri circuit bench ruling, private poker games in the state of West Bengal should receive relief from the ever-present police raids over poker, which for a long time has rested in a grey area of India’s gambling laws.
On September 30, Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) police raided a popular restaurant and arrested 14 people for playing poker; the 14 included the restaurant’s owner, Akhtar Parvez. Those arrested were charged with various violations of the India Penal Code, including criminal conspiracy and cheating, along with assorted violations of the West Bengal Gambling and Prize Competition Act. The 14 men were arrested at two Kolkata venues, called the Friends Club and the Leo Club.
The September raid followed a similar crackdown in August that targeted another Kolkata underground poker game, but it’s likely that all these charges will now be dropped. The Jalpaiguri circuit bench was already considering a petition filed by the Indian Poker Association (IPA), which has mounted legal challenges supporting poker in several Indian states over the last decade.
In handing down its ruling earlier this week, Jalpaiguri bench justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharya wrote this about his court’s pro-poker decision: “Since the game of poker ipso facto is not included within the purview of the West Bengal Gambling and Prize Competitions Act, 1957, without there being a specific complaint with regard to the petitioners resorting to gambling or other illegal activity in the name of poker, there cannot be any occasion for the police to interfere with such game.
“Accordingly, W.P.A. No. 394 of 2019 is disposed of by directing the respondents not to interfere with the games of poker going on between the members of the petitioner no. 1 at the rented room at the Hotel Tourist Inn at Sevoke Road in Siliguri, unless there is a specific complaint against the petitioners that they are resorting to gambling or undertaking any unlawful activity in the garb of the game of poker in the said room.”
In other words, the Kolkata police were told to leave poker itself alone, even if other gambling forms pretending to be poker can still be investigated. It’s a narrow victory, but a win nonetheless for poker in the populous Calcutta region. Oddly, police in Kolkata had already been ordered not to crack down on poker six years earlier, but the game’s association with other forms of still-illegal gambling has meant the raids and arrests have continued.
The IPA also gets to chalk up its second state-level win in its battles for legal poker in India. The organization has provided aide in other poker-related cases, gaining a win in Karnataka but suffering a setback in 2016 in Gujarat state, with its efforts also continuing in cases in two other states. Though the state-by-state battle parallels the legal efforts undertaken in countries such as the United States and Germany, the effort may end up being absorbed by a national-level movement. Last year, India’s Law Commission recommended a nationwide legalization and expansion effort covering several forms of gambling, including poker, though the country’s legislators have yet to launch a serious effort supporting the recommendation.