LEGAL POSITION OF ONLINE GAMING/GAMBLING IN INDIA
Gaming/Gambling laws in India prohibit betting or wagering and any act which is intended to aid or facilitate the same. Gaming/Gambling being a State subject, different States in India have different gaming/gambling laws. This would mean what is permitted in one State may be an offence in another. The Public Gambling Act, 1867, is the central enactment on the subject, which has been adopted by certain states of India like Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh etc. The other States in India have enacted their own legislation to regulate gaming / gambling activities within its territory. It is to be noted that State Legislations have been enacted prior to the advent of virtual / online gambling and therefore references of gaming/gambling in respective state legislatures are in relation to physical premises only, barring Sikkim and Nagaland which are the only States who have introduced regulations pertaining the online gaming.
After going through the State gambling laws, it is found that, except the State of Orissa and Assam, most of the States have excluded ‘games of skill’ from applicability of its respective gaming/gambling laws. Further, playing certain games including ‘Poker’, both online and offline, is permitted under the laws of West Bengal, Nagaland and Sikkim subject to licence from the appropriate State Authorities. But this would be applicable only in the territorial limits of the respective State. In Goa, gambling is permitted only in Government permitted places operated as casinos.
The issue of online gambling still remains a grey area which is yet to be adjudicated by Courts of India. Having said that, necessary inferences can be drawn from orders passed by the Court while deciding the issue of whether a particular game is a ‘game of skill’ or a ‘game of chance’. But the issue of whether a ‘game of chance’, if played like a sport without stakes amount to gambling or not? still remains largely undecided.
Game of Skill v. Game of Chance:
There has been a substantial discussion by Supreme Court and High Court on what constitutes a ‘game of skill’ and a ‘game of chance’. What is adduced from the judgments is that a game where there is preponderance of skill over chance is a ‘game of skill’ and vice-versa.
By taking the above ratio into account, SC in the matter of State of AP v. K.Satyanarayana (1968) held the game of Rummy to be a ‘game of skill’. However, the Court in its judgment has indicated that if there is gambling or if the gambling house is making profit from the game of rummy, then it could amount to an offense under the laws of AP. It was further observed by SC that the three card game which goes under different names such as flush, brag, etc. is a game of pure chance. This was relied upon by SC in another its other judgments viz. M.J.Sivani v. State of Karnataka (1995) and Dr. K.R. Lakshmanan vs State Of Tamil Nadu And Anr (1996).
The issue of whether rummy if played with stakes amounts to gambling or not has not been decided by Supreme Court. However, Andra Pradesh High Court in D. Krishna Kumar And Anr. vs State Of A.P.(2002) (Annexure-2) relying upon the SC decision of 1968 held that till such time the state gambling Act is amended to lay down that playing Rummy with stakes is "gaming", playing Rummy with stakes is not 'gaming' within the meaning of the Act and is therefore allowed.
Delhi District Court: Gaussian Network Pvt. Ltd. Vs. Monica Lakhanpal
The issue of Online Gaming/gambling was discussed in detailed in the above case when the issue was put up before the Court under Order 36 Rule(1) of CPC by the parties. The Court held the following:
Having said that, the said ruling was rendered infructuous as during the final arguments in the Revision petition, parties sought to withdraw the petition. So the effect being there is no ruling which can be treated as a precedent as regards online gambling.
Gujarat High Court on Poker:
The issue whether Poker is a ‘game of skill’ or a ‘game of chance’ was never discussed in detail by any Court in India until the recent decision/order dated December 4, 2017 passed by Gujrat High Court in Dominance Games Pvt. Ltd. V. State of Gujarat, wherein, the said issue was extensively pondered upon. The Court in its said decision held that Poker is a ‘game of chance’ and therefore amounts to gambling under Gujarat Prevention of Gambling Act, 1887. While arriving at the aforesaid decision, the Court inter alia observed the following:
Mr. K.N Suresh, Secretary of Indian Poker Association has filed an appeal against the said order, being Letters Patent Appeal No. 2625 of 2017 before the Division Bench of Gujarat High Court. The bench after hearing the matter briefly on December 28, 2017 issued notice to the state government and other respondents, and till date the matter is not heard finally. Having said that, since no ad-interim/interim reliefs are granted presently, the Single Judge order stands valid and enforceable.
Though the order does not specifically make any observation on Poker, if played as a sport and/or without stakes, however, while differentiating between rummy and poker, the Hon’ble Court at para 60 of the said order makes a presumption that wagering or betting is an inseparable part of the game of poker and therefore would involve stake. The Court while holding Poker to be a ‘game of chance’ has also predominantly relied upon moral religious and social grounds. In the absence of the said order being overruled and the issue being addressed specifically, the game of poker, even if played as a sport and/or without stakes remains a grey area which is then left at the discretion of police authorities.
Though the issue of Poker was considered by Gujarat High Court in view of the provisions of Gujarat Prevention of Gambling Act, 1887, in arriving at the decision of Poker being a ‘game of chance’, the court made several observations like how the game is played, origin of the game, reference to ancient Indian literature, moral and religious grounds, etc. which may be applied by other states/state machinery having similar gambling laws. The issue is likely to be clarified by Division Bench of Gujarat High Court, once the appeal is finally heard.
In view of the above, it is clear that if a game is considered to be a ‘game of chance’ under the state laws and rulings by the Courts and is played with stakes, would constitute gambling under the respective state laws with exception pertaining to a few states as mentioned above. If an entity is able to show that a particular online game or a particular on-ground gaming activity has preponderance of skill over chance and/or is played as a sport without stakes, it may fall within the exception of gaming/gambling under the state gambling laws. It is pertinent to note however that if online gaming is illegal in any State, the promotion of the same in such State would amount to violation of ASCI Code as well as Cable TV Network Regulation Act, 1994.