4 Oct 2011

Exclusive: Poker legal in West Bengal, is Kolkata all set to be the new poker haven?


Exclusive: [With all poker enthusiasts just looking at the obvious destination, Goa, everyone seems to have missed the statutory provision that allows poker in West Bengal. Read on to know how poker is legal in West Bengal and how card-rooms can be started there.]

The popularity of poker in India has been increasing every day. Most people view it as means of socializing and recreation. Thus, quiet a few upper-middle class Indians have started weekend poker-evenings with friends and acquaintances. Some view it as an analytical indoor sport and a good-way of spending time rather than going to clubs or parties.

However, despite the increasing popularity of poker in India, the legal atmosphere is not conducive for poker to grow as an indoor game. There are various floating casinos having poker as a game in Goa and various casinos in hotels and other places in the North-Eastern State of Sikkim. There is a new huge resort-cum-casino coming up in the union territory of Daman.

What however, has seemed to escape the notice of poker-lovers and entrepreneurs is a favourable and conducive legislation in the Eastern State of West Bengal. While, The West Bengal Gambling and Prize Competitions Act, 1957 prohibits almost all forms of gaming and betting, Section 2 (1) (b) of the Act has excluded skill-based card games like poker, bridge, rummy and nap.

Thus as far as poker in West Bengal is concerned, the exemption of poker form the West Bengal Prize Competition and Gambling Act, 1957, clearly indicates that conducting poker games in West Bengal, even for cash would be permitted. Given the fact that it would be possible to have poker in the Kolkata-the largest city in Eastern India where a lot of enthusiastic poker lovers are situated, should be the greatest news for the gaming industry and poker-lovers in recent times.

However, a word of caution here. Even in West Bengal, Section 12 of the West Bengal Gambling and Prize Competitions Act, 1957, requires permission from the Police Commissioner of Kolkata or the District Magistrate of the concerned district for any game of skill to be held in a public place. Whenever, card games are conducted, police assume it to be gambling and arrest owners, organisers and participants. Thus, to be on the side of caution (and since it can be inferred that poker is considered to be a game of skill, atleast in West Bengal after considering the Supreme Court judgment on rummy, referred earlier and the mention of poker along with indisputable skill-based card games like rummy and bridge).

Additionally, since poker is considered to be a legitimate form of gaming, it may be necessary to have appropriate entertainment or amusement license from the appropriate authorities as per the Bengal Amusements Tax Act, 1922. The Kolkata Municipal Corporation issues entertainment licenses for games like pool-tables, video games etc. While neither poker nor rummy is mentioned in the list of games for which entertainment license is granted, it is still assumed that such a license would be required for carrying out any kind of poker game where cash is collected from participants.

The over-riding West Bengal gaming statute would require the police authorities, district magistrate and Municipal authorities to grant the license (if they do not anticipate any law and order or other problem- state government can also prohibit any game if it is causing a law-and-order problem under the Bengal Amusements Tax Act). However, in any case if permission for hosting poker tournaments is rejected by any Court, there is a strong ground to challenge the same in Higher Courts.

It is also highly plausible that the Supreme Court decision in State of Andhra Pradesh v. K. Satyanarayana , classifying rummy as a game of skill along with this West Bengal Act would be used by Courts in other parts of India to classify poker as a skill-based sport separate from gambling.

Thus, to cut a long story short, West Bengal – a large poker market with potential for enormous amount of growth remains untapped. Poker in one of Indias largest state would be a dream-come-true for gaming enthusiasts and the gaming industry in South Asia. This would certainly have a domino effect in other States of India-where relying on this West Bengal Act and Supreme Court decisions on rummy-Courts would be urged to allow large-scale poker events across India.

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