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Legal & Regulatory Poker

Breaking news: Gujarat HC dismisses poker clubs’ petition, rules poker to be a game of chance [Updated]

Justice Rajesh H. Shukla of the Gujarat High Court dismissed the special civil petition filed by KN Suresh of  Indian Poker Association, Dominance Games Pvt. Ltd., AAA Gaming Pvt. Ltd. and other poker clubs that sought recognition of poker as a game of skill and direction to the police to refrain from interfering in the peaceful conduct of the game of poker in their clubs.

Justice Shukla rejected the petitions filed by the poker clubs in an order pronounced today. The matter pertaining to whether poker is a game of skill and consequently whether it can be played for stakes was argued at length from July to September this year after which Justice Shukla had reserved the matter for final orders and listed it on 23rd November.

The matter was listed on board twice, on 23rd November and on 30th November, but a final order was not pronounced on those two dates. Ultimately, Justice Shukla pronounced the final verdict in court today.

Justice Shukla in his order clearly and categorically ruled that poker does not involve a substantial element of skill and falls within the ambit of gambling under the Gujarat Prevention of Gambling Act, 1887. He further said that the letter of the Ahmedabad police commissioner’s office dated 15th March, 2017 is not illegal, arbitrary or against principles of natural justice as the police have merely interpreted the statutory provision under the Gambling Act.

The petitioner clubs have indicated that they would be filing an appeal against this adverse order of Justice Shukla before a division bench of the Gujarat High Court very soon.

The decision of the Gujarat High Court is seen to be a major setback not just for the poker clubs who approached the High Court but also for the online poker and skill games industry in India, as the adverse order of the Gujarat High Court comes just weeks after the Telangana legislature passed a Bill to ban online gambling and skill games played for stakes.

Note: This story has been updated after receiving the order of the Gujarat High Court. 

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Legal & Regulatory

Gujarat HC judgement on poker legality deferred to 30th November

A single judge bench of the Gujarat High Court has deferred the judgement in the matter of Dominance Games Pvt. Ltd. and other poker clubs by one week.

Justice Rajesh H. Shukla was supposed to deliver a conclusive decision on whether the game of poker involves skill and whether playing poker in clubs would constitute an offence under the Gujarat Prevention of Gambling Act. After months of arguments by counsels from the state government and seven clubs, the court had reserved its order for 23rd November.

Eight matters pertaining to Gambling Act cases, including the Isanpur Gymkhana matter relating to crackdown on illegal gambling clubs as well as Dominance Games, Rollers Training Institute of Cards, AAA Gaming and Indian Poker Association cases relating to poker were listed for orders on top of the board today as per the cause list.

However, it is understood that Justice Shukla announced today that the judgement would now be delivered only next week, i.e. on 30th November. No reason was given for the deferment of the verdict.

Interestingly, another petition filed by Samir Patel was also listed for orders today. Last week, a similar criminal petition filed by Patel with a different bench, making the state government, police and Department of Culture and Sports parties that inter alia, sought non-interference from the police in rummy and poker activities conducted by his club, was summarily dismissed by Justice JB Pardiwala.

The Gujarat High Court’s verdict that is now expected on 30th November will have a major impact on the burgeoning online poker, rummy and skill games industry. The losing party in the matter is almost certain to immediately file an appeal with the division bench of the High Court.

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Legal & Regulatory

Gujarat HC to deliver poker legality judgment on 23rd November

The Gujarat High Court heard the concluding arguments of all poker clubs as well as the public prosecutor and state government counsel for a few hours over the span of three hearings- i.e. on 15th, 18th and 19th September.

Senior Counsels Mihir Thakore and SV Raju, India Poker Association Secretary KN Suresh (appearing as petitioner in person) as well as the government counsel argued at length about the manner in which the game of poker is played, case laws, statutory provisions as well as International precedents.

A single judge bench comprising of Justice Rajesh Shukla reserved its order on the legality of the game of poker, whether the element of skill outweighs chance and whether it can be played for stakes in clubs across Gujarat.

Justice Shukla also announced that the order will be delivered on 23rd November. The order of the Gujarat High Court is likely to have a significant impact on the future of online and offline poker in India.

Petitioner clubs have indicated that any adverse ruling in the matter would almost certainly be immediately challenged before a division bench of the High Court.

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Legal & Regulatory

Gujarat HC adjourns poker clubs case yet again, matter to be listed on 15th September

The Gujarat High Court has adjourned the matter pertaining to whether poker can be played with stakes in clubs to 15th September, after two senior counsels representing the petitioner clubs were unavailable today.

Justice Rajesh Shukla while hearing the rebuttal of poker clubs had extensively heard the submissions of Senior Counsel Mihir Thakore on 1st and 8th September.

During the course of his submissions, Thakore had with the permission of the court, asked two professional poker players, Abhishek Goindi and Aditya Wadhwani to make a presentation to the court.

The High Court in the last two hearings not just heard the practical aspects of the game from the players but also watched a few videos showing professional players reading the cards, analysing hands and watching other players’ expressions.

Thakore also countered the argument of the government that the game of poker does not involve skill and gave judgments which countered the claims made by the government.

SV Raju and Sudhir Nanavati, two other senior advocates representing poker clubs are slated to present their rebuttal to the arguments of the state government on 15th September, after which the counsel representing the government and police is also likely to present with their point of view.

Justice Shukla indicated in court that he intends to complete the hearing in the matter soon and consequently, it is expected that the matter will be brought to its logical conclusion in the next few hearings.

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Legal & Regulatory

In unprecedented move, Gujarat HC watches poker videos, hears opinion of poker pros, hearing to continue on 1st September

Exclusive A single judge bench of the Gujarat High Court comprising of Justice Rajesh Shukla heard a clutch of special civil petitions pertaining filed by Indian Poker Association, AAA Gaming and others to the legality of poker and whether the game involved a substantial degree of skill yesterday.

Senior Counsel Mihir Thakore, while appearing for some of the petitioner clubs gave a point by point rebuttal on the various foreign judgments quoted by the government counsel which stated that poker is a game of chance. Thakore contended that the material relied upon by the government would not apply in the Indian context, given the previous precedents and wording of the Gujarat Prevention of Gambling Act.

In a surprising and perhaps unprecedented move, Thakore then asked the judge to consider the representations made by two experienced poker players, Abhishek Goindi and Aditya Wadhwani. Despite some initial reluctance shown by Justice Shukla and objections by the government, eventually Thakore persuaded the court to allow Goindi and Wadhwani to place their research and thoughts before the court.

Goindi and Wadhwani then proceeded to show the court two basic videos about the element of skill involved in the game of poker as well as the format and manner of playing the game.

The matter has thereafter been adjourned to 1st September, where Goindi and Wadhwani are once again expected to make some representations on the practical elements of the game of poker and how it involves a great degree of skill. The two trained poker pros are also expected to show more videos of poker tournaments to demonstrate how the game requires a great deal of strategy, analytical, mathematical and psychological abilities.

Yesterday’s hearing in the Gujarat High Court was historic and unique in India’s legal history as experts who were neither lawyers nor party to the case were allowed to intervene in a constitutional court and not only make verbal presentations but also show videos.

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Legal & Regulatory

Gujarat HC hears government's contentions on restricting poker, to continue hearing on 9th August

A single judge bench of the Gujarat High Court continued its hearing on the civil petition regarding the legality of poker. Justice Rajesh Shukla heard the contentions of the counsel for the state government at length over the course of the last couple of weeks and is slated to continue hearing the remaining submissions on 9th August.

The state government pointed out the ills of gambling and moral hazards associated with it. It also noted that betting or wagering on a game of chance for a reward or consideration would fall within the definition of gaming or gambling.

The government also noted that the power to regulate gambling vests with the state and even a mixed game of skill and chance can be prohibited. It noted that as observations in the Satyanarayana judgment of the Supreme Court, police can take action if there is proof of stakes or profit or gain from the activity of card games.

It also quoted the MJ Sivani v. State of Karnataka judgment of the Supreme Court to point out that trade and commerce activities like video games that could result in public injury, could be curtailed by the state as a reasonable restriction in the interest of maintaining public order.

The state government lawyers also discussed the history of poker, foreign judgments ruling poker to be a game of chance and how betting or gambling is essential to the game of poker.

The arguments in the case are however far from over. The state government is likely to bring to fore some more arguments in the matter next week after which the counsels for the petitioners are also likely to present their rejoinder.

In the meanwhile, Hetal Desai, Jaydeep Dawer of AAA Gaming Pvt. Ltd. and 30 other accused who were arrested in the Surat poker club raid in May 2017, have through a separate petition applied for quashing of the matter.  Justice AJ Desai of the Gujarat High Court while hearing the matter asked the police not to file the chargesheet without its permission, thereby giving temporary reprieve to the accused.

Justice Desai has also agreed to continue the hearing on whether the FIR filed for playing poker is maintainable or deserves to be quashed. The matter is now slated to come up for hearing on 28th September.

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Legal & Regulatory

New bench of Gujarat HC to hear poker clubs petition on 6th July

The Gujarat High Court is now set to hear the petition filed by a consortium of poker clubs on 6th July. The special civil petition filed by  Dominance Games Pvt. Ltd. came up before a single judge bench headed by Justice Rajesh Shukla yesterday.

It is understood that the state government sought time to comprehensively canvas their submissions, including domestic and international case laws. It is also learnt that Justice Shukla also sought some time to go through the materials filed by the petitioners and the state government’s response to the averments made by the poker clubs and therefore fixed the hearing date after a week.

A clutch of petitions filed by Rollers Training Institute of Cards Pvt. Ltd., KN Suresh (on behalf of Indian Poker Association), AAA Gaming Pvt. Ltd.and Hotel Ramada will also be heard along with the Dominance Games petition.

It is however understood that the criminal application filed by Ahmedabad Poker Association will be heard separately by the High Court on 30th August. (All other clubs apart from Ahmedabad Poker Association had earlier preferred to withdraw their criminal applications and file a civil petition instead).

Earlier, the civil petitions filed by the poker clubs were repeatedly adjourned as the state government sought more time to respond and due to the transfer of the petitions to a new bench.

A detailed and hotly contested hearing is expected on 6th July as the state government has maintained the game of poker involves a substantial degree of chance. The Surat and Ahmedabad police commissioners have also issued letters stating that playing the game of poker amounts to gambling.

Note: The article has been updated with the response of Ahmedabad Poker Association.

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Legal & Regulatory

Gujarat HC adjourns poker clubs matter to 23rd June, allows state to file reply

A single judge bench of the Gujarat High Court headed by Justice GR Udhwani adjourned the joint civil petitions filed by six poker clubs to 23rd June, 2017, as the state government sought more time to reply to the contentions raised by the petitioners.

As reported by us earlier, seven poker clubs had withdrawn their special criminal application from the High Court and had instead decided to file a civil petition challenging the Ahmedabad police commissioner’s ruling that poker was a game of chance. The clubs, led by Rollers Training Institute of Cards Pvt. Ltd., KN Suresh (on behalf of Indian Poker Association) and AAA Gaming Pvt. Ltd. filed a joint civil petition that came up for hearing today.

The clubs pressed for an interim order from the court seeking continuation of their operations, which has been impacted by the police crackdown on poker games. However, it is understood that the state government and police sought time to give a detailed reply on the averements made by the clubs, including on their plea for interim relief.

The High Court has not yet granted the clubs’ prayer of interim relief and has instead posted the matter for hearing on 23rd June, 2017, and allowed the state government to file its reply by then.

It is also understood that at least one other club, Dominance Games Pvt. Ltd., has also filed a separate but similar civil application before Justice Udhwani, which is still pending and has not yet been disposed off.

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Legal & Regulatory

IPA alleges infringement of fundamental rights by Gujarat police, asks for urgent hearing, matter to be listed on 22nd May

It is understood that the Indian Poker Association (IPA) has mentioned the pending poker matter before a vacation bench of the Gujarat High Court for urgent adjudication, in light of recent raids by the Gujarat police on poker rooms in Ahmedabad and Surat.

IPA has claimed that poker is a game of skill and consequently playing the game is an activity that is protected under the right to free trade and commerce, which is guaranteed under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.  IPA has also stated that the recent raids on poker rooms and harassment of poker operators by the police is not justified.

The state of Gujarat on the other hand has claimed that playing poker amounts to gambling and consequently has to be prohibited.The Gujarat government has also sought more time to respond on the matter following which the matter has been listed for hearing on 22nd May, 2017.

KN Suresh, Secretary of IPA said that he was confident that the court would rule in his favour on 22nd May and that games would resume in Ahmedabad very soon. He added that Senior Advocate SV Raju has been retained by IPA to appear on its behalf in all subsequent hearings.

It is understood that the other poker clubs who had filed petitions before the High Court have not yet joined hands with IPA in asking for urgent adjudication of the matter.

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Poker

IPA suspends operations in Ahmedabad amidst new raid by police

The Indian Poker Association has suspended its poker operations in YMCA Club, Ahmedabad and also its plan to open three more poker clubs in the city.

The announcement was made by KN Suresh, Secretary of IPA on his Facebook page. Suresh said that he would be approaching the Gujarat High Court soon to get a clear direction and in the absence of interim relief granted by the court, he had no option but to suspend the club’s operations in the city, in the interest of the safety of players. He made the following statement:

Poker in Ahmedabad is suspended until we get more clarity from courts. It’s the safest thing for us poker players considering that the authorities seem to be confused.
While they sleep over our representation & instead of answering the queries before courts the authorities have become aggressive and in a evidently boisterous mood.
IPA will be moving the Hon’ble High Court of Gujarat during the vacation over the next week and flip this upside down. Cheers!!

A raid by the Ahmedabad police on poker games happening in the Navrangpura Hotel in the city seems to have prompted the IPA to temporarily shut down its operations. Last week, the Surat Police had raided a poker club operated by AAA Gaming and arrested 32 people.

Jaydeep Dawer, Director of AAA Gaming has vowed to fight the matter in courts and issued the following statement on social media:

This morning as the Sun Shone, it guided me to pen down the TRUTH related to the events that have happened in the past few days. The Media has been all over scanting for any misinformation they can extract from the air since 30th April. This is my effort to make it easy for them when it comes to POKER!!!!

1. POKER is a skill Game and it is out of purview of the Bombay Prevention of Gambling Act of 1955 & Gujarat Prevention of Gambling Act 1987.

2. Poker has a legit status in West Bengal & Karnataka. A Criminal Miscelleous Application Petition is pending before the High Court of Gujarat since more than 3 months. This is our effort to to obtain the same status for the game in the state of Gujarat.

3. Media quotes, “Poker mania nu jugaar ramaato hato”. Well, If its Poker, it cant be termed as Gambling & if its Gambling, its definitely not Poker. And there is no such game as Poker mania.

4. Media says, we were operating a Casino. A Casino comprises of games Roulette, Black Jack, Flush, Ander Bahar which are purely games of chance, while a Poker Room though a part of the casino is always separate and insulated from the above games. At our facility, we did not have any provision for any of the above Games of Chance.

5. Media says I travel the country to play Poker and I am an expert in the game. Is it unlawful to travel in the country to play Poker? Expertise requires skill in the game and we have numerous players who are experts in Poker. But One can only get lucky in Games of chance and to be an expert in them without cheating is unheard of I guess!!! This Media themselves prove that Poker is not Gambling as they compliment me of being an expert in the game.

6. A Law makes an activity legal/illegal. In absence of a law, can an activity be vetoed Illegal?

7. If there is no law for Poker, its high time some definite laws are framed about the game rather than framing a few Poker passionates as accused without proper knowledge & Truth about the game.

IPA has also announced that its plans to open a poker room named ‘Safe House’ in the Radisson Blu Hotel, Paschim Vihar in New Delhi would not be affected by this latest development. The Radisson Blu Poker room is expected to commence operations tonight.