Game Changers

How lobbyists are redeeming poker in the eyes of the law

01 May 2017
Over the past year, laws governing poker have become more relaxed, especially since Nagaland passed a law that enabled the state to award licences to at least four poker websites.
vijay mathur / reuters

On a night in late October, in 2011, an advocate named KN Suresh hosted a card-playing party at his house in the posh area of Indiranagar, Bengaluru. Wealthy techies, doctors and realtors were reportedly in attendance. Later that night, a few guests showed up uninvited: a special squad of the Bengaluru city police raided the house, reportedly confiscating liquor bottles, card paraphernalia and cash. The police also arrested Suresh, along with eight of his guests.

Over the phone in February, Suresh recalled the night, and told me that he and his guests had been “wrongly booked for playing andar-bahar”—an illegal card game commonly played on the street, which decides winners purely on chance. Instead, they were playing poker: a game that involves both skill and chance. “It was harrowing,” Suresh said, to see the police seize the poker chips he had brought from abroad.

The arrested individuals were bailed out the following day, and their cash and belongings returned to them. Still, they were booked under the colonial-era Public Gambling Act of 1867. Suresh challenged these charges in the Karnataka High Court, he said, and succeeded in getting the matter quashed. Nevertheless, the raid spurred him into action, turning him into a lobbyist for poker. In the years since then, Suresh’s efforts, and those of poker lobbyists like him, have contributed to the rise of poker in India.

Malay Desai Malay Desai is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.

Keywords: regulation Law gambling Poker Cards