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Kolkata: The next Vegas?

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.

PokerWala

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.

Kolkata: The next Vegas?

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 India’s 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.

About Jay Sayta

Jay has researched extensively on gaming laws and has been cited by various media houses and journals as an expert. He has helped leading newspapers in their stories on gaming laws. Jay completed his B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) degree from NUJS, Kolkata in 2015 and is currently based out of Mumbai.

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15 comments

  1. really well written. reveals a well hidden truth. Bravo.

  2. Brilliant Jay! Simply brilliant!!

  3. Even if the legal loopholes you refer to, technically allow public poker rooms and events, political expediency would discourage such adventures….Didi is walking too thin and straight a line to allow card rooms. I for one do not foresee poker being publically legalized in bengal (or for that matter, in India outside of casinos) in the near future.

  4. Hi Manav, thanks for your comment. You are correct that parties across the political spectrum today are wary of having card rooms openly anywhere in India due to the social stigma attached to it.

    However, in West Bengal when the law favours such poker rooms, you have the support of the judiciary and administration. Political parties can do little about it, except try and change the law now, which seems difficult because as evidence about the skill element of poker mounts, the reasons for granting poker the exemption from gambling in the WB Act becomes clear and the judiciary in such a situation will have to support the exemption of poker from the gambling statute due to the predominant skill involved.

  5. Hi Jay
    Personally I as an individual have not come across any such legislature or Act. I further feel that in 1957 or even upto 45-50 years after that poker was that popular or as heard of in India that West Bengal could have added that to the said Act. Even in USA this became popular only in the last decade or max 15 years.
    I would not rely too much on the information and go for it. I feel that the original copy and subsequent amendments should be seen first and then jumped to a conclusion.
    Jay, as you are legally sound, please try and get a copy of this. I had heard of this around 6-8 months back but could not get a copy of the said Act near the High Court and then I gave up looking for it.
    Lets work on it and see if can lay our hands on the original and then discuss it. You have visited my office once and if either of us gets hold of it then we can have a sitting on it.
    Do keep me informed and so would I inform you if I get it.
    Regards
    Bharat Agarwalla

  6. I have a copy of the WB Gaming Act from various commentaries and original gazettes: poker, bridge, rummy and nap have been included in the WB Act by a 1979 amendment to the WB Prize Competition and Gambling Act.

  7. rageshwari bhowmik

    okiei so dint have any idea about this..all i want to know is-why is the law supporting it and if its all fine with the relation of poker in india then why is it not very famous in other parts of the country?

  8. Dear Mr. Jay,
    Lots of Indian tourists now frequent the casinos abroad. Many of them win good amounts. How can this be brought into India ? Is it legally allowed after paying tax? If so, how much is the tax ? If winnings are in cheque form, what can be done?
    Regards
    Savitha

  9. Hi everybody…i am looking to acquire a license from kolkata authorities to operate online gaming website in India. Please let me know if you have any idea about the procedure.

  10. Jay pl share your number

  11. We wish to open a POKER ROOM in kolkata … what are the pre-requisites for opening the same in terms of —

    a. licences
    b. permissions
    c. Area

    Please provide informations on the same ..

  12. RAJ GOENKA
    We wish to open a POKER ROOM in kolkata … what are the FORMALITIES for opening the same in terms of —

    a. licences
    b. permissions
    c. Area

    Please provide informations on the same ..

  13. Hi Jay,

    Read your details on poker being legal with few reservations/ restrictions in kolkata? Would like to take paid consultancy on this matter and legal help. Please leave me your contact details so that I can get in touch with you. Shall look to hear from you.

  14. what are the requirement to start poker inn kolkata licence if yes what is the fees,area required

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