Clarify if Poker amounts to a game of skill: Bombay HC to Maha govt

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The Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court has asked the state government whether online poker amounts to gambling or it is a game of skill. The directions came in while hearing public interest litigation filed by social activist Munwar Ahmed. 

The petitioner alleged that few companies were hosting online poker games and passing them off as a game of skill while it is essentially a game of chance. The bench was informed that as per Section 3 of the Bombay Prevention of Gambling Act, 1887 (BPG Act) gaming is defined as any form of wagering or betting except the wagering or betting on horse or dog races amounted to gambling. 

The petitioner further stated that as online poker game falls under the purview of section 3 of the BPG Act and the online poker offerings are illegal and the companies offering them should be restrained. The petitioner argued that the online game can become addictive and thus affect morality and to maintain public health, such companies offering online poker games should be restrained. The petitioner added, Ninestacks, Baazi Mobile as three respondents in addition to the state government. 

After hearing the petition, the bench asked the state to clarify its stand on whether it considered the game of poker to be gambling or a game of skill and sought an affidavit in reply on the same. The next date of hearing is on 08 February 2022.  Another petition seeking a declaration of Ludo as a game of chance is pending before the Bombay High Court.

In August, relying on Supreme Court decisions, the Madras High Court had struck down an online gaming ban law stating ‘games of skill’ are protected by Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. The Court further held that the law violated Article 19(1)(g) by imposing unreasonable restrictions in the form of a blanket ban. A similar argument was taken by the petitioners before the Karnataka High Court challenging the online gaming ban law enacted by the Basavaraj Bommai government.