Poker Unlikely to be Impacted by Indian Supreme Court Ruling

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India Supreme Court poker rummy
Poker is growing in India, but its legality still isn’t entirely clear after the Supreme Court punted on a question over rummy clubs. (Image: India Poker Championship)

Online poker’s next big growth market could very well be India.

Many companies in the industry are certainly looking at that possibility, with PokerStars even signing their first Indian team pro, Aditya Agarwal, earlier this year.

But the blossoming poker industry in India didn’t get any help from the Indian Supreme Court this week, as a ruling that many had hoped would make it clear that poker was legal in the country wasn’t forthcoming.

On the bright side, there wasn’t any bad news, either; the disappointment came from the fact that many poker players were hoping for a lot more.

Rummy Case Began With Local Club

The case that had so much potential actually had nothing to do with poker.

Instead, it centered on the activities of a rummy club: the Mahalakshmi Cultural Association. The club had been targeted by police because of the fact that rummy had been played for money at the venue.

That caused the club to take the case to the Madras High Court, which ruled in 2012 that real money rummy was considered gambling, and was therefore illegal.

But since at least two other high courts (in the states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh) had previously ruled that rummy was not an illegal gambling game, the club was joined by others as well as some online rummy sites in taking the case to the Indian Supreme Court.

Last week, that court ruled that the online rummy sites could be excluded from the case.

“The judgment in question does not pertain to online rummy,” the justices overseeing the case wrote in an observation released on August 13. “The plea by such websites is premature. As and when this question will arise, we will deal with that, but today there is no issue to be determined.”

Court Says No Reason to Rule on Rummy Legality

That still left the core question as to the legality of real money rummy to be decided.

But the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that there was no rummy-related ruling to be made, and asked the club to withdraw its petition as well.

The issue, apparently, was that the case that eventually made its way to the Supreme Court didn’t actually involve rummy, but some other betting activity at the club.

In addition, the club had been acquitted by a trial court on the charges against it, leaving little for the Supreme Court to rule on.

At this point, you might be wondering what all this has to do with poker. The connection comes from the way in which both rummy and poker are viewed as games of skill, and a clear ruling that one constituted a game of skill would likely have affected the other.

Poker’s position as a game of skill was settled in 2013, after police raided a poker room known as the Hi-5 Club. A High Court later ruled in favor of the club, saying that the club was allowed to conduct poker games provided it was “played as a game of skill.”

Several online poker companies offer their products in India, including worldwide leaders PokerStars and 888poker. At the moment, the country would be regarded as a grey market, as there are no laws regulating online poker in the country, but also no implication that the games are illegal.

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