4 Minutes Read
It is common today to consider Bengaluru as the next poker hub in India, after the ubiquitous Goa. Another destination that has emerged in recent times is Kolkata. The common factor in making these two cities legally poker-friendly however, is advocate KN Suresh (cover image), a passionate poker player himself. Suresh entered the scene at a time when poker was considered an illegal sport, by society and the authorities equally. Suresh founded the Indian Poker Association (IPA) and began the first poker room in Bengaluru.
Despite having a NOC from the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), the IPA poker room in Bengaluru was raided in late July, 2013. Being a practicing lawyer with his own offices, Suresh decided to take on the system and won a landmark victory in Oct 2013 at the Karnataka High Court, which stated that poker played as a game of skill required no licenses for playing in recreational clubs and could continue unhindered. The judgment unleashed a flood of poker rooms in the garden city, which soon began to carve its unique identity, with numerous poker rooms flourishing.
Thereafter, Suresh trained his sights on Kolkata last year, where he was starting a poker room in partnership with Aditya “Bitti” Agarwal. In June, 2015, the police warned the poker room at Princeton Club during its soft launch and threatened action if the organizers continued. Undeterred, Suresh filed a petition in the Kolkata High Court seeking relief and unhindered operations for the poker room and won another landmark judgment for poker on July 2, 2015 when the Court directed the same.
While, these incidents are well known, little has been written about Suresh, his background, his legal battle for poker and more. Here, PokerGuru brings you all the details about India’s poker crusader in his own words, specifically minute nitty gritty on the legal definitions of poker as a game of skill and how it is legally determined.
Speaking about his early days, Suresh informs us, “I was born in Kerala and raised in Bangalore. I graduated from St. Joseph Indian High School and completed my commerce graduation from St Josephs Commerce College and Law from Bangalore University. I have my own practice and I met poker through one of my friends in 2009-10 and was always surprised at the fright in the players, despite them coming from successful business background.”
“Despite the fact that people were educated and were coming from good social backgrounds, people were afraid that they were indulging in an illegal activity playing poker which is not the case.” he explains about how people were afraid of playing poker.
We interrupt him to ask how did the poker bug bite him and he replies, “It was mainly the superior mathematical skill and observation that is necessary to succeed together with mental discipline that is required in poker and the fancy that it was played in underground ghettos and made it sound like something which is illegal or something, that prompted me to bring it in the open and thus established the Indian Poker Association (IPA).”
Going on to talk about the IPA, he adds, “I am the founder secretary of the organization and the idea was to find the next world champion of poker from India. In other words, today IPA aspires to be to poker what BCCI is to cricket in the country.”
Suresh then explains how the founding of the IPA led to exploring the legalities of the game and says, “So, what we did was first we established IPA and then we set about studying about the various judgments on poker. Let me put it this way, in India gambling applies to only game of chance as it does everywhere in the world. There is no law in the books which says that cricket, volleyball, chess are games of skill and roulette, blackjack and poker are games of chance. There is no notification where the ministry of sports declares a particular game of skill or chance. So the courts in India apply a very simple test to this issue, i.e. whether in a particular game chance plays a higher role in outcome of the game, then it is a game of chance. And if not then it’s a game of skill.”
He makes it easier to understand the thin legal definition of skill versus chance, by clarifying, “All games have an element of chance, for instance in cricket, a batsman willing to score a shot on the cover is likely to nick the bat on its outside edge and which may lead to his wicket or a four, a dropped catch is a game of chance or a run out is chance, hit wicket sometimes is a chance. A golfer when he strikes the ball, a gust of wind can take the ball to a different direction other than one intended is a game of chance. But the crucial element is whether there are more no of actions of skill you have to do to win rather than action of chances. In roulette, you just have to bet on a number and the wheel automatically spins and the ball can land anywhere, there is nothing in your control in that situation except betting on a number.”
Continuing the detailed explanation, Suresh states, “but when you bet on a horse race then you have to know about the horse whether he is a champion in 100m/1000m/his weight/how much more weight can he carry/whether the jockey is of which weight and depending on these variables a punter will make his bet therefore it is considered as a game of skill. Here also in chess there is a particular element of chance and they decide the first move to play white through a coin toss, white being the aggressor.”
Moving on to Court cases, he informs us that “there have been previous judgments in the courts of Karnataka, where permission to play poker have been granted by the court but nobody had gone through these and a study of these cases and with research, we found all these cases and we made a representation to the state government which was then forwarded to the deputy director of public prosecution, who is the arm of the state which advises the police about criminal matters.”
Suresh explains how his case made the difference, recalling, “The question was raised that whether poker was a game of skill or chance. On such an occasion the police issued a letter to IPA stating that it had no objection in IPA conducting skill card game of poker. That is how the poker scene of Bangalore was successful.”
Recounting the experience, he admits, “there were not many challenges that I faced frankly except maybe the time it takes for our system to pass a judgment or to even dispose an application. Except for that inordinate delay, there were not many challenges.”
Suresh then talks of other states that allow poker legally and says, “Even now we have got West Bengal and Nagaland covered. Currently, West Bengal is probably the easiest of the lot and for gambling or gaming laws, West Bengal is very good. The reason is WB is the only state in the country whose statutory laws related to gambling specifically excludes the game of poker from that act. In other words, the original act in India was the Indian Public Gambling Act, subsequently all the states of the country were given their own authority to decide on gambling, so states that did not make any specific laws on gambling adopted the Indian public gambling act.”
Talking about how police react he adds, “In Karnataka, offences related to gambling are dealt under the Karnataka Police Act. In Delhi, the offences related to gambling are under the Delhi Public Gambling Act of 1955. Chennai Police Act takes care of these in Chennai and same with Hyderabad. The key thing in all these acts is that nothing in the act shall apply to mere skill games wherever played. Once a game is considered a game of skill, the gambling act doesn’t apply. Except Assam and Orissa, betting on sports is legal in the country, what is illegal is spot fixing. Cheating in games is what is illegal.”
Suresh is quick to point out, “the Nagaland online bill is a blue print for the future; it is for other state governments to recognize what Nagaland has done.”
Elaborating on ongoing efforts, Suresh tells us, “We are currently closely working in Gujarat, Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Punjab and Haryana. In every state currently people are very skeptical about whether or not we will be able to replicate our success in other three states so our crusade is none at the moment in individual cities. Everybody wants their city to be legal and are waiting for it. We should be in a position to have our next room over the course of 6-10 weeks.”
Cover Image Courtesy: India Poker Championship