Exclusive The Kerala government has announced its decision to consider including poker and bridge in the category of games of skill by way of amending a hitherto unknown notification dated 30th September 1976.
The notification, unearthed by Jay Sayta, founder of this website, is pursuant to Section 14A of the Kerala Gaming Act, 1960. Section 14A of the Kerala Gaming Act is a peculiar provision and is in addition to Section 14, which in general exempts games of mere skill from the ambit of gambling.
Section 14A is perhaps the only such provision in any gaming legislation in India that specifies that the government may, if they are satisfied that skill predominates chance, exempt such games from all or any provisions of the Act, subject to prescribed conditions. This provision allows the state government to enlist games of skill. This clause also allows the government to impose any restriction on skill games
Based on this clause, the government in 1976 exempted rummy, dart throw, ball throw, shooting contests etc. from the penal provisions of the Gaming Act (thereby making playing of these games for stakes or real money completely and unambiguously legal and immune from any criminal liability). The only condition imposed by the government in the notification is that side-betting on the notified skill games is not permitted.
Sayta, based on this notification, wrote to the then Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, suggesting that the notification be suitably amended to include games like poker and bridge, since the element of skill outweighs the element of chance. It was argued in the petition that the Karnataka High Court has already indicated poker to be a game of skill, while the statute in West Bengal also exempts poker, rummy, bridge and nap from the ambit of gambling. Additionally, it was stated in the letter, that the Nagaland legislative assembly has also enacted a new law to recognise and regulate online poker, rummy and bridge as games of skill.
The Chief Minister’s Office has responded to the application by referring it to the Home Department. Further, communication from the Home Department has stated that is considering the application and has already begun consultations with the Law Department on whether poker should be included in the notification exempting games of skill.
If the suggestions in the letter are accepted, it would be end any ambiguity on the legality of online poker and conclusively end any debate regarding the element of skill involved in the game. Perhaps, the next few months will be crucial for the skill games industry.