Why the Gaming Federation Is Lobbying to Legalise Poker in Kerala

The All India Gaming Federation (AIGF) approached the Kerala government recently in a bid to seek the possibility of including poker and other skill-based games under Section 14A of the Kerala Gaming Act. The Act currently restricts the above mentioned games and the federation had approached Nalini Netto, the Additional Chief Secretary (Home), Government of Kerala, on the issue.

AIGF said that the government has agreed to review the list and consider the inclusion of the games, after consulting with the Law Department.

AIGF is a non-profit organisation that focuses on policy advocacy, research, and is a forum for discussion for stakeholders in the gaming industry.

When the government amends the 56-year-old Act, it would only be done after having consultations with legal experts, as the game of poker involves betting and there is a chance of free flow of illegal money.

Such a move for the inclusion of poker started when Jay Sayta, gaming lawyer and founder of ‘glaws’ (India’s first gaming law website), unearthed the 1976 notification of the Kerala government that exempts games such as rummy, cup and coin contest, darts etc., from the range of gambling.

When asked about why poker should be legalised and how it could be considered skill-based, Mr. Sayta told The Kochi Post that, “Various courts have identified poker as a skill-based game. The jurisdictions of Karnataka, Nagaland and West Bengal have found it to be so. Such games help in developing the mental, mathematical and negotiation skills of an individual, just like the game of chess. Ultimately, it develops the mind.”

He added that, “Money is also a part of it. But it should be played with or without money. After all, you are placing money on your own skill. Therefore, only those who are more experienced and skilled would do that. Side betting is not allowed in poker. Only the person who plays can put bets.”

Mr. Sayta also rejected the possibility of the flow of black money in the game. “Actually, it would become legal once it has been exempted. The money could be measured and taxes, including service tax, should also be paid,” he said.

He added that the game would ultimately invite foreign investment in the State, once poker is televised.

“When more tournaments are conducted and televised, it’s a very good source of income for Kerala. The State can become a good destination for the game in India or Asia,” he said.

Mr. Sayta said that the federation is yet to get a response from Ms.Netto after the meeting last month.

AIGF believes that the State government would positively react to the federation’s appeal, after it put forward the idea that the inclusion of poker and other skilled games would boost the investor’s confidence in Kerala. The federation also believes that ultimately the move would be profitable for  tourism and other associated industries in Kerala.

Main photograph by By Todd Klassy, CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons.

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