India is one of the leading emerging countries for online poker. Many new poker sites have come up and the impact is evident from the rise in demand for high quality game formats and high cash rewards doled out by online poker companies in India.
Laws That Affect Indian Gaming : games of skill and games of chance
Games can be broadly classified into two types: games of chance and games of skill.
In a game of chance, the winner is determined entirely by luck. The end result or outcome is completely uncertain. No human being can apply his/her mind to estimate the result or use any efforts to influence the result. Due to their unpredictability and general unscientific nature, such games, if played with real money, are illegal by law and are categorised as gambling. So, online casinos are illegal in India.
In games of skill, an individual applies his/her knowledge, training, attention, experience, or expertise, and the final outcome is influenced by one or more of these factors. Games of skill do have an element of luck or chance, but they are also have more predominating characteristics of being influenced by skills. This is why games of skill like 9stacks poker and 9stacks Rummy are deemed ‘gambling’ and do not break the laws prohibiting gambling.
Are any games of chance legal in India?
In general, games of chance constitute gambling and are illegal. The exception is where certain games have been licensed by the government.
As of now,only 13 states in India allow lottery games.There is no national ban but following a 2015 decision by the State Supreme Court of India, individual states decide whether to allow lotteries or not. It says that states have the authority to regulate lottery games in their particular jurisdiction and not internationally. They have to ensure that all lottery draws taking place must run fairly and strictly comply with all the rules and regulations of the game.
Casinos - offshore casinos are allowed in Goa, and land casinos are allowed in Sikkim and Goa, as long as the operator has a valid license. The license specifies various rules that need to be adhered to.
All other games of chance are illegal, including online versions of roulette, blackjack, or sports betting.
What about games of skill?
Playing games of skill like poker, rummy, bridge and fantasy sports is legal in India. Predicting the winners of horse races has also been deemed to require skill, so betting on horse races is considered a game of skill.
Horse Racing- this is a very popular sport in India. But to allow betting on horse racing, you need to be a member of a turf club, only turf clubs can allow betting for returns.
Poker too, has been recognised as a game of skill by several High Courts in India. The West Bengal Gambling and Prize Competitions Act of 1957 very clearly excludes poker from the definition of gambling. Placing reliance on this definition, and the decisions of various High Courts and the Supreme Court of India, we can conclude that playing poker and other similar card games for the legitimate forms of consideration would be permitted due to the overt element of skill involved in these games.
Under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) of 1999 technically, depositing to a gaming site that operates in a currency other than Rupees could be considered an exchange of foreign currencies, and thus be deemed illegal by the FEMA rules. This ruling also makes it difficult for players to withdraw or cash out their winnings from foreign sites. Hence, Indians cannot play online poker from any site/app that is not registered in India, or is transacting in non-Rupee currencies..
All India Gaming Federation
The All India Gaming Federation (AIGF) has issued a legal charter for online games of skill establishments. Some of the points covered in the charter include-
. Members shall not offer pay-to-play versions of any games of chance on the Platform.
. All formats of the game offered on a Platform will be skill predominant. Platforms will not advertise any games of chance or provide any link to any website/platform offering any games of chance.
. A Platform will not offer its Indian games to persons residing outside India, i.e., all games will be offered to Indian residents only.
Thus, one simple way to see if an online site is good is to check if it is a member of AIGF. 9stacks is one such site, which is a long-standing AIGF member and was the first Indian site to launch a comprehensive set of features for responsible gaming. Clearly, that would be a good place to start your online poker journey!