Challenge to online rummy, poker ban: Madras HC reserves judgment, verdict likely on 3rd August

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The Madras High Court on Monday reserved its judgment on the petitions challenging the Tamil Nadu government’s ban on online gaming with regards to online poker and rummy played with money (Junglee Games India Private Limited v. State of Tamil Nadu).

The Court once again highlighted its reservations with regards whether the Act used by the State to enforce a blanket ban on online games like poker and rummy would stand the test of law.

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With the change in government and Advocate General (A-G), arguments in the matter had been heard again from 5 July. The new A-G R Shunmugasundaram, representing the State, completed his submissions before Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy, with brief rejoinder submissions also made by the petitioners, reported the Bar and Bench.

Chief Justice Banerjee also verbally informed that 3 August would be the likely date for the verdict. Senior advocates AM Singhvi, Aryama Sundaram, AK Ganguli, and PS Raman led the arguments for various petitioners.

I think it is better we throw it out, you better get a more intelligible legislation,” Chief Justice Banerjee told the A-G during the hearing, also questioning why the State wasn’t in favor of regulating online games instead of opting for a ban of this nature.

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The Court noted that the State appears to have categories online poker and rummy as games of pure chance. and juxtaposed with the fact Supreme Court has ruled rummy as (largely) a game of skill.

Your provision is ‘please don’t indulge in gaming by playing poker or rummy or any other game in cyberspace’ when rummy has been held to be a game of skill, other games may be games of skill,” the Court said, orally.

The petitioners are yet to show any laws that cited rummy, poker as a game of skill when played online, said the A-G in response.

Let us be reasonable sir. There are many games that depend on physical skill, hand eye coordination which may be necessary in Badminton, Table Tennis. But when it is rummy, chess, any board game, even scrabble, the attributes of playing it physically and on the virtual mode are the same.. they do not involve any physical skill whatsoever when they require only mental skill but skill nevertheless,” Chief Justice Banerjee said, underlining his skepticism.

Any game played on cyberspace, there is no guarantee there won’t be any manipulation,” was the A-G’s retort.

Very good, then you regulate it. You have your representative being given access so he can snoop over everything,” said the chief justice, wondering why potential manipulation of the kind wasn’t feasible via monitoring without a ban.

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The A-G argued that just monitoring won’t help solve the issue since many aspects of the digital world couldn’t be controlled. He then went on to cite Article 19 (6) of the Constitution, to suggest the State was well within its right to restrict activity by virtue of banning it.

You say vulnerable population loses money. Make a restriction. Licence, control, regulate, prohibit them, suspend their license … do whatever you want to regulate. But here you are completely prohibiting what seems to be a game of skill,” the Chief Justice said.

What has been prohibited is losing money. When wagering and betting, participants lose money. In competitions, no one loses money … Competition cannot be equated with wagering,” the A-G went on to add.

With the hearing on the verge of concluding, the A-G told the Court he would consult the State on whether it wants to amend the Act or correct it keeping in mind the Court’s pointers.