Exclusive: Tamil Nadu govt files SLP against Madras HC decision quashing online rummy & poker ban provisions

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The Tamil Nadu government has filed a special leave petition (SLP) before the Supreme Court challenging the decision of the Madras High Court striking down certain provisions of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Online Gambling Act, 2022 (“TN Act“) in November last year. The TN Act was enacted by the state government to prohibit gambling for stakes including online poker and rummy.

A similar plea is already pending where the Tamil Nadu government challenged a similar decision of the Madras High Court quashing Tamil Nadu Gaming and Police Laws (Amendment) Act, 2021 which prohibited online gaming for stakes. It is worth noting that in a hearing in December last year on this earlier appeal, Amit Anand Tiwari, Additional Advocate General of Tamil Nadu submitted to the SC that the Tamil Nadu government is in the process of filing an SLP against the November 2023 decision of the Madras High Court.

The Tamil Nadu government in the fresh plea before the apex court said the Madras High Court has committed multiple errors of law and fact while striking down the Schedule of the TN Act, which included the games of online rummy and online poker. The High Court also held that sections 2(i) and 2(l)(iv) of the TN Act shall be read as restricted to games of chance and not games involving skill, viz., rummy and poker.

The government has framed 11 questions in the plea before the Supreme Court which included the following:

  1. Whether the games of online rummy and online poker are games of skill or games of chance?
  2. Whether the online gambling platforms are liable to be prohibited as “common gambling houses”, given that their profits are proportional to the stakes put up by the players in online games?
  3. Whether the physical variants of the games of rummy and poker and the online variants of the said games are really identical in terms of the “brain activity” involved?
  4. Whether the distinction between games of chance and games of skill is at all relevant in the context of a statute enacted by a State in exercise of its powers to legislate on the subject matters of public order and public health?
  5. Whether a State have the competence to legislate on betting as a separate and distinct subject from gambling under Entry 34 of List II in the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution

Tamil Nadu government said the Madras High Court by its November 2023 decision has erred in effectively issuing a mandamus to the legislature by stating that it can only regulate and not ban the games of online rummy and online poker when played with money or other stakes.

The plea said even in a game of skill, a bet placed by a player on their own likelihood of success may not be well-calculated especially when the player does not have reliable data about the game such as the skill of their opponent(s) (e.g., when playing against a bot). The plea therefore said that even if online rummy and online poker are held to be games of skill, it would not automatically follow that the State cannot ban betting on such games of skill.

This fresh plea was filed on 30 December 2023 and at the time of writing this was allotted a diary number as per the Supreme Court website.