Out-Law News 1 min. read

India's top court to determine legitimacy of online card games in dispute over alleged illegal gambling

India's highest court is to determine whether website operators that allow Indian users to play rummy and other card games for money breach the country's gambling laws.

The Supreme Court of India is to decide soon whether such games qualify as games of 'mere skill' which can be organised and participated in lawfully in India, or whether the games are ones of chance which are banned.

A report by the Economic Times of India highlighted a forthcoming case before the Supreme Court involving websites that charge users a one-off fee to play rummy or other card games against other online players. The winner of the games wins the fees paid to enter minus a service charge imposed by the website operators, according to the report.

However, state government bodies in India have challenged those arrangements and state that they amount to gambling activities that are prohibited under Indian law. Amidst the legal challenge, an interim order was issued by the Indian courts in 2012 to enable the website operators to continue to allow users to play rummy so long as they did not take a stake from players. Now, the Supreme Court will rule on whether the games can be offered with stakes, the report said.

Gambling in India is heavily restricted. Betting on horse racing and playing the lottery is broadly permitted, but the Public Gambling Act makes it a crime to operate a gaming house. The Act's rules do not apply to "games of mere skill", though, and there have been some cases that have gone to court to determine whether certain games qualify as games of skill or whether they constitute games of chance and therefore amount to criminal activities to be involved with.

In 1996, the Supreme Court of India said games do not have to be wholly about skill to be classed as 'games of mere skill'.

According to an Indian sports betting website, the Supreme Court said: "Competitions where success depends on substantial degree of skill are not 'gambling' and despite there being an element of chance if a game is preponderantly a game of skill it would nevertheless be a game of 'mere skill'". 

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