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2 Kolkata Card Clubs Raided, But Will Charges Stick?

Outline Map of India

The general consensus over the status of gambling in India is that it’s an illegal activity in many cases although there are a few exemptions for certain activities. A couple of poker clubs in Kolkata were raided by the authorities on Sept. 29 under the assumption that poker is a form of illegal gambling.

However, the game appears to be gaining at least some ground as far as legality is concerned, thanks to a recent court decision that has deemed poker to not be covered by anti-gambling laws. Thus, the criminal charges filed as a result of the recent police enforcement actions may wind up having to be dropped entirely.

Kolkata Poker Decision

Police Raid Results in Arrests of 14 People

Police and Car

The late September sweep against two poker venues occurred in the West Bengal city of Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta. Confusingly, the court that has jurisdiction over this area is still known by its old name, the Calcutta High Court, though there have been failed attempts in recent years to change it.

In total, 14 people were arrested in two establishments: the Friends Club and the Leo Club. Charges against them included both criminal conspiracy and cheating under the provisions of India’s Penal Code and the West Bengal Gambling and Prize Competition Act.

Not only were individuals detained, but items were confiscated too. Among the objects seized were chips, decks of cards, computer equipment, and cash.

One of the factors undoubtedly contributing to the high level of local press coverage garnered by this story was the presence of Mr. Akhtar Parvez among those arrested. He's a prominent businessman who is the owner of the popular Arsalan restaurant and catering firm, which has eight locations.

Arsalan RestaurantThe Owner of the Arsalan Restaurant Chain Was Caught up in the Recent Kolkata Gambling Raids

Previous Anti-Poker Crackdowns in India

Book + Spectacles

This raid came only a short few weeks after a similar one that took place in August. At that time, another underground poker game taking place in Kolkata was targeted, and these instances are just two of the large police raids that have taken place within the state as a way of attempting to crack down on poker gameplay.

Such persecution has been going on for a long time now in India though. In September and October of 2018, authorities in Bangalore raided more than 500 card clubs, shutting them down in the process. The biggest problem, in the eyes of many, was that all 500+ of these establishments appeared to be discovered as violating the law at the same time, resulting in the coordinated mass suppression of these poker sites.

Yet, India’s poker laws have been quite the gray area for some time now, meaning that different people interpret them in different ways, and so it appears unlikely that more than 500 clubs suddenly started doing something new that caused them to run afoul of the rules. What's more likely is that someone in the inscrutable and Kafkaesque bureaucracy decided to interpret regulations in a new manner, of course without warning anybody in advance.

Hope on the Horizon?

Binoculars

Despite the fact that 14 people were arrested for playing poker in Kolkata recently, and on numerous charges to boot, it looks like all prosecution of them will now be dropped. As it happens, the Jalpaiguri circuit bench (part of the Calcutta High Court) had issued a ruling on Aug. 29 that appears to torpedo the case against the poker players.

Calcutta High CourtThe Calcutta High Court has jurisdiction in West Bengal and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Despite this decision being reached more than a month ago, it was only reported in the mainstream press at the beginning of October. Perhaps law enforcement didn't know of it, which is why the police felt confident in targeting the two Kolkata poker halls in late September. If this was what happened, it certainly wouldn't have been the first-ever instance of separate parts of the Indian legal system failing to communicate effectively with each other.

More About the Judge's Order

Jalpaiguri bench justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharyya handed down the ruling relating to poker gameplay in the state of West Bengal. A petition had been filed by the Indian Poker Association (IPA), which claimed that police were “harassing” its members who were trying to play poker in a hotel room rented for that purpose.

Sabyasachi BhattacharyyaJudge Bhattacharyya Has Ordered Police to Leave Poker Clubs Alone

In Justice Bhattacharyya's reasoning, he demonstrated quite a pro-poker mindset. He said that since the game of poker itself is not specifically included in the scope of the West Bengal Gambling and Prize Competitions Act, 1957, the police don’t have the official right to interfere with these games absent credible complaints that other illegal activity is taking place.

Judge Bhattacharyya went on to state:

Learned counsel for the respondents submits that, in the garb of poker, gambling was going on in the hotel room-in-question, for which the police had to interfere.

However, it does not appear that there is anything on record to indicate that the police had any specific information or complaint of the petitioners indulging in any overt illegal act to interfere with the ongoing games in the room-in-question in the hotel being played by the petitioners and/or their members.

Since the game of poker ipso facto is not included within the purview of the West Bengal Gambling and Prize Competitions Act, 1957, without there being a specific complaint with regard to the petitioners resorting to gambling or other illegal activity in the name of poker, there cannot be any occasion for the police to interfere with such game.

The judge then warned police to not treat vague complaints about poker as “an unlimited licence to enter into the room-in-question and go on a rampage…without a specific arrest warrant or a permission from the appropriate authorities to enter into the room and inspect what is going on inside it.”

Kolkata Authorities Directed to Back Off

Caution Sign

Because of the ruling by the Jalpaiguri circuit bench, Kolkata police have essentially been informed to leave well enough alone when it comes to poker gameplay. While it’s still possible for the authorities to investigate other gambling forms that seem to be pretending to be poker, this marks quite the victory for the poker scene within the area.

As it happens, the police have received previous warnings over their crackdown attempts when it comes to poker. Six years ago, orders were given for them not to interfere with poker gameplay in Kolkata.

However, because the game has found itself being readily associated with alternative forms of gambling that still remain as illegal activities in India, raids and arrests have started to become more commonplace. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, this has meant that poker players have faced the burden of answering charges that have nothing to do with the games they’re participating in.

Indian Poker Association Claims Ruling as Another Victory

Black Ribbon

The IPA has been fighting for poker gaming to be made into a legal activity across India for some time now, and this ruling has managed to provide it with what is being determined as a second victory at the state level. The association has been vigilant in providing assistance with other poker-related issues in India, managing to secure its first state-level win in Karnataka in 2013. Yet, the IPA did suffer quite the setback in 2017 in the state of Gujarat. The fight is still being brought to the table in two other Indian states.

IPA LogoThe Indian Poker Association Is an Informational and Player Advocacy Resource

Yet, the association could find itself the unexpected beneficiary of the work of the Law Commission of the country. On July 5, 2018, a report was filed known as Legal Framework: Gambling and Sports Betting including in Cricket in India, which advises the government of India to regulate real money gaming activity. While sports betting is the focus of this report, poker is also favorably covered, meaning that if the government decides to act on it, the game could become a legal activity in the country.

Unfortunately, it seems as though elected leaders are stalling on even discussing the possibility of legal sports betting or poker in India. So far, there hasn’t really been any kind of serious effort put into supporting the recommendation from the Law Commission.

As things stand at the moment, both horse racing betting and rummy card games are determined to be skill-based endeavors, which are exempt from the prohibition on gambling in the country. Many define poker as being a game of skill too although the Supreme Court has not declared whether or not it is one yet.

CricketerAny Indian Legalized Betting Is Likely to Focus Mainly on Cricket With Poker Being Just a Small Sideline

Playing Online is the Alternative

Computing Hardware

While playing poker in land-based establishments throughout India isn’t quite there yet as a fully legal activity, there are alternative routes that players can utilize. Online poker gameplay is a possibility at several platforms, which welcome Indian players.

Our pick of the best of the bunch is Bodog India, which lets you bet on sports and engage in casino gameplay in addition to competing in card games. Read our Bodog review page for further instructions on signing up and playing poker today.

The battle for legal poker in India is quite similar to that in the United States where many players engage in playing poker at offshore destinations. To find out more about these USA internet cardrooms, you can read through our guide to the best US online poker rooms where you’re able to play with real money.