In order to understand more about poker and the space it occupies in India, Guardian 20 spoke to K.N. Suresh, the lawyer whose petition in the Karnataka High court helped legalise the game in Bengaluru and Kolkata. Suresh is also a member of the Indian Poker Association, a private body that is working towards promoting the game in India. Here are a few excerpts from the interview.
Q. When and how did you get introduced to poker?
A. I got introduced to poker through a friend of mine and I realised that all the rich mighty, famous and educated people were playing poker but at the back of their minds they had a fear of being arrested by the police.
Q. What made you file the petition seeking the legalisation of poker?
A. My friends thought that since I was a lawyer I would be well equipped to allay their fears. So I started working on the legalities to figure out whether poker can be construed as a game of skill and if we could get a judgment in our favour and remove the taboo imposed on it — as was the case with rummy in India. That set me to file the first petition with the Karnataka High Court.
Q. How helpful was the judgment and what is the poker scene like in Bengaluru now?
A. Thanks to the High Court judgment, we now have 13 poker rooms in Bengaluru and so far Kolkata is the only city in the country that specifically excludes poker, rummy and bridge from the definition of gambling. Just like horse racing is exempt. What it basically means is that nothing in the Gambling Act shall apply to games of mere skill wherever they’re played. So in India it is legal to play any game which is a skill-based game but placing a wager on a game based on chance is illegal.
Q. So what exactly does the anti-Gambling law state?
A. Let’s take an example.Say, 1,000 people were to pay Rs. 1,000 and participate in an extempore competition. The topic of conversation is the atrocities done by police in any city. You host the event and welcome some senior minister as your chief guest. So out of the 1,000 participants let’s say you select the top three as the best speakers and after spending Rs 30,000 on the participants’ stay and everything, you give the winner a cash prize of Rs. 45,000. Now does this qualify as a game of chance or skill? Each participant here is going to showcase his knowledge on the topic and the one the judges think is the best will be awarded. Similarly in poker every player displays his skill and talent and in the end the one who manages to win is the person who is awarded with the cash prize. Just like cricket or golf, poker is also a game based on skill not chance.
Q. What is your take on online poker in India?
A. These websites are doing what is completely legal to do. And if you speak to a few representatives from these portals you’ll know that the footfall is on the rise constantly. So what the government needs to do now is to piggy back on this and make proper tax laws so that neither the players nor the companies feel the blunt. This will help the government make a good revenue for itself which they can use to give us proper roads, water and other basic facilities.