The legality of games of skill

By Suhaan Mukerji, PLR Chambers
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Whether played online or offline, games of skill are judicially protected and cannot be viewed as gambling, writes Suhaan Mukerji

Playing games of skill such as rummy or bridge has been judicially held to be not akin to gambling or gaming (both expressions being judicially held to be synonymous). This has been the consistent view of the Supreme Court for the past 50 years.

Suhaan Mukerji Founding Partner PLR Chambers
Suhaan Mukerji
Founding Partner
PLR Chambers

In two landmark Supreme Court cases, State of Bombay v RMD Chamarbaugwala (AIR 1957 SC 699), and RMD Chamarbaugwala v Union of India (AIR 1957 SC 628), it was held that competitions that involved substantial skill were not gambling activities. Such competitions were business activities, the protection of which was guaranteed under article 19(1)(g) of the constitution.

Ten years after the Chamarbaugwala decisions, the Supreme Court, in State of AP v K Satyanarayna (AIR 1968 SC 825), held rummy to be a game of skill since it entailed considerable skill in holding and discarding cards. The predominance test was evolved by the Supreme Court in this decision, being that rummy was “mainly and predominantly a game of skill”. In 1996, the Supreme Court had to deal with the subject of horse racing in Dr KR Lakshmanan v State of Tamil Nadu and Anr (1996 2 SCC 226). In paragraph 3 of the judgment, the court took note of the definition of the word “gambling” contained in the New Encyclopaedia Britannica, as: “The betting or staking of something of value, with the consciousness of risk and hope of gain on the outcome of a game, a contest, or an uncertain event, the result of which may be determined by chance or accident, or have an unexpected result by reason of the better’s miscalculations”, as well as the definition in Black’s Law Dictionary: “Gambling involves not only chance, but a hope of gaining something beyond the amount played. Gambling consists of consideration, an element of chance and a reward.”

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