India offers a huge potential for the gambling industry. Currently possessing a gaming revenue market that ranks 18th largest in the world, India is being touted as a country that could replace Macau as one of the world’s leading gambling hubs. Barriers to legalized gambling are breaking down as casino gambling and online gambling regulations are being passed throughout India’s gambling jurisdictions.
Indian gamblers have a particular affection for poker and now Nagaland, a small state in North East India, has become the first jurisdiction to award an online poker license. The licensee is K365 Web Assets Pvt. Ltd. and operates the online poker site khelo365.com. For now, the site will target the home market, and all games will be denominated in Indian currency. After receiving their license, a statement was posted on the website stating, “The games which our site offers have explicitly been declared to be legal by Statutes governing gaming laws and by various judgments passed by the Honorable Supreme Court and/or various High Courts in India.”
Vinod Manoharan, managing director of K365, noted that “We are happy that the Nagaland government has finally issued the license to regulate online skill games. We are proud to be the first company to have procured the license and to have submitted all our documents to a regulatory authority. The license issued by the Nagaland government will end the debate on the legality of online poker once and for all, and will enable this industry to boom.”
India’s current gaming law is an archaic piece of federal legislation that dates back more than a century, and is referred to as the Public Gaming Act of 1867. That law prohibited gambling on games of chance and specifically pointed out cricket and other sports common at the time. But in 1996, the Supreme Court of India acknowledged that horse racing and rummy are skill-based activities and therefore should not be subject to the federal Public Gaming Act. Since then, some Indian states have defied the federal law and have started allowing gambling on skill-based activities.
One of those states is Nagaland. Based upon the Supreme Court ruling, Nagaland passed its own legislation called the Prohibition of Gambling and Promotion and Regulation of Online Games of Skill Act, 2016. Because rummy was already considered to be a skill-based game, it stood to reason that poker, which is closely related to rummy, would also be classified as a skill-based game. Of course, this is all in defiance of federal law, but currently a state commission is reviewing how to amend the 1867 Public Gaming Act to bring it up to date.
The Nagaland license will allow operators to offer online poker and their services to all “states or union territories where games of skill are permitted.” The jurisdictions from which operators cannot accept players must have a specific law against allowing games of skill, since the Supreme Court position means that no federal gambling law would apply.
Nagaland’s new laws are not the singular panacea that will open online poker all across India, but they are leading the way towards legalization in a country that could become a new mecca for the online gambling industry.