Card games such as rummy, Poker, baccarat, and others have always been very popular in India. The question which many people ask is whether playing cards for money is legal or not in India. With the advent of platforms offering online cash rummy games, which have opened up a new world of card games for people, this question has become more frequent.
The laws governing playing cards for money have evolved over the years with court judgments and the exercise of powers by state governments in India. The emergence of apps and websites to Play Rummy and other card games online added a new dimension to the legality of playing cards for money.
A quick exploration of the legal position of playing cards in India is in order.
Central Law on Gambling
The Public Gambling Act of 1967 prohibits facilitating or owning public gambling houses and penalizes visiting any such public gambling house. The public gambling house can be a house, room, tent, enclosure, or space where people are allowed to indulge in gambling, and the owner gets pecuniary benefits from it.
Under section 3 of the Act, operating a gambling house is punishable with a fine of up to INR 200 and imprisonment of up to 3 months. Section 4 of the Act penalizes the visit to a gambling house with a fine of up to INR 100 and imprisonment for a maximum of 1 month.
The state governments have the freedom to amend this law or enact its laws. It must be noted that the Act makes a distinction between the Game of Skill and the Game of Chance. This law does not cover any kind of game of Skill under section 12.
Game of Skill And Game of Chance
A game of Skill is a game in which the result is determined primarily by the mental or physical abilities of the players, with luck playing a minimal role. Game of Chance, on the other hand, is a game in which luck plays a major role in determining its outcome with the limited role of skills.
The Legal Sanction For Skill Games
In 1968, the Honourable Supreme Court of India ruled that card games such as rummy or Poker are skill-based and skill-based games are permitted under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India. In 1996, the Supreme Court of India ruled that a game in which chances of success depend significantly on skills cannot be called gambling. Card games mainly depend upon skills and are games of skills. Thus, playing cards in India for money cannot be considered gambling but a business activity.
It must be remembered that even though playing cards for money has been deemed legal by the Supreme Court of India, the state governments are at liberty to frame laws against playing cards for money. Many state governments have adopted central laws, while some states have enacted their laws.
The Legality of Online Card Games
In the age of digitization, there is a preponderance of online games. The same is the case with card games as well. Some apps and websites allow people to earn money from rummy and other online card games. The doubts regarding the legality of playing online card games for money on such platforms are often raised.
As discussed, the Supreme Court of India has ruled that card games such as rummy are games of skill, not chance. This ruling applies to online card games as well. Playing online card games for money is legal as this is a right safeguarded by Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India.
Madras High Court Judgment and Supreme Court’s Intervention
In 2012, Madras High Court declared playing rummy for stakes as a form of gambling, hence illegal. This judgment effectively made playing real cash rummy online illegal as well.
Petitions were filed against this judgment at the Supreme Court. In 2015, the apex court set aside the judgment of the Madras High Court and upheld that rummy is a game of skills, and playing a game of skills for stakes cannot be called gambling.
Online Card Games Allowed in India
In the case of Dr. K.R. Lakshmanan vs the State of Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court stated that rummy is not entirely a game of chance. The court had also observed that it requires skills to memorize the cards dealt in a rummy game and decide which cards to keep or discard. Thus, playing online rummy to earn money is legal in India. However, playing rummy only on the Best online rummy app, such as Magic Rummy, is necessary.
In the case of the Poker Association vs the State of Karnataka, the High Court of Karnataka ruled that Poker is a game of skills and can be played online for money. However, the Gujarat High Court ruled in 2017 that Texas Hold’em Poker is not a game of Skill.
Solitaire is a game based mainly on skills and is recognized as a game of skills. Since playing a game of skills for cash is protected under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India, playing online Poker for money is a legal activity.
Exceptions in the legal position
Since the state governments can frame their laws related to card games for money and gambling activities, the Supreme Court judgments and the Central laws are not binding on the states.
Playing card games regardless of online or offline for money is illegal in Assam, Odisha, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, and Nagaland. People living in these states can play card games without the involvement of money. They can also play free online rummy and other card games, not cash games.
However, playing cards for money is legal in most Indian states.
Altogether, there is no punishment for playing cards in India, whether for money or pleasure or online or offline. However, some states prohibit card games for money.