Madras HC: ‘Act banning online rummy, poker poorly drafted, may not stand test of law’

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In what could eventually turn out to be a rather crucial development for India’s online gaming industry, the Madras High Court on Friday raised concerns around Tamil Nadu Gaming and Police Laws (Amendment) Act of 2021, used by the state government to ban games like poker and rummy, being able to stand the test of law. The Court, scathing in its remarks, said the law had been poorly drafted and used as a means to implement a blanket ban on games of skill using morality as a crutch just ahead of the assembly elections in the state.

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Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy told Advocate General R. Shunmugasundaram highlighted that the government had acted without either conducting a study on the negative impact of gaming or relied on any hard data. More importantly, they noted, there was no debate on the issue in the state Assembly ahead of the law coming into force in February.

“There’s no doubt that you have the authority to pass a law on the subject. We will also give you the benefit of the presumption that you are doing it for the benefit of the people but that does not mean you can crack the whip beyond acceptable parameters. This Act appears not to take cognisance of a body of jurisprudence that had preceded on the subject. It appears to be jumbled and confused,” the Chief Justice said according to a report in The Hindu.

He further stated “Gambling is an activity whose outcome is purely based on chance and not skill. Betting is completely different from gambling. Here, the Act appears to have been drafted haphazardly that one part does not agree with the other and does not even address the issue you want to address.”

He added that the Court would have to study whether the State had been arbitrary in preventing a gamer from showcasing his or her skill.

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He also pointed out that some card games like contract bridge were games of skill which and required a high intelligence quotient (IQ), citing the example of the Omar Sharif, the Egyptian actor, who is an authority in contract bridge and has accumulated a fortune on the back of it. With that backdrop, the Chief Justice wondered if banning games that prevent people (like Omar) from displaying skills is a violation of their rights.

The A-G brought to the Court’s notice instances of people in the State committing suicide after losing money in online games. He also, pointed out how one person had in fact attempted killing his daughters for refusing to give him money to play. At this, the Chief Justice Banerjee shot back “Just because one mad man had indulged in such thing, does not mean you can impose a blanket ban on all games of skill.”

Over the course of time, some of India’s finest legal minds like Abhishek Manu Singhvi, A.K. Ganguli, C. Aryama Sundaram and P.S. Raman have represented various online gaming companies offering games that have been banned by the State using the law.

Mr. Raman stated that the Tamil Nadu government had enforced a ban on games like online rummy and poker just because seven deaths were reported in last five years due to online gaming addiction. He then drew a comparison with Jallikattu, a sport banned by the Supreme Court, which is responsible for 20 deaths a year in the state.

“How can an event which is not a crime in the physical world become a crime in the virtual world?” the senior counsel asked and insisted on striking down the entire Act.

The judges, after hearing them out, adjourned the matter to Monday, with the A-G set to continue with his arguments.

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