Online Rummy ban challenge in Madras High Court: Abhishek Singhvi cites State’s paternalistic authority

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Monday’s hearing in the Madras High Court in pleas challenging Tamil Nadu government’s online rummy ban saw an interesting exchange with between Senior Advocate AM Singhvi and Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee over the State’s paternalistic authority.

Banning online games for persons above 18 years is a form of unreasonable, external, paternalistic value judgment that cannot be permitted, and violates Articles 14, 19 (1)(g) and 21 of the Indian constitution, argued Singhvi according to a report on Bar and Bench.

“Experience shows, in gambling, you tend to get addicted. the more you think there is a chance to recover, the deeper and deeper you fall. If State wants to address it, it perceives that to be ruinous for its residents, is it something we can interfere with?” Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee asked.

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“Not only can, but should interfere. Otherwise, paternalism will take over liberalism,” Singhvi replied.

He pointed out that Article 21 (personal liberty) and free choice would be in danger should a such paternalistic approach be adopted, citing various forms of addiction including caffeine consumption.

During his arguments, Singhvi also pointed about there was no prohibition on smoking and alcohol consumption, activities which are far more addictive and dangerous than online gaming.

“There are any number of bettings. Can you say it is per se noxious? Have you banned liquor? Other noxious activities, smoking?”, he argued.

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Singhvi further pointed out that State-sponsored lotteries are permitted in Tamil Nadu. He then stated that adding stakes to a game of skill cannot make it a game of chance or attract a ban.

Previous arguments describing online rummy a predominantly game of skill and thus not liable to be banned were also revisited.

“There can be no game of cards that is completely skill. How you deal out the cards is chance. That in life is called destiny. In cards, it’s called chance,” he said, highlighting that just this won’t make a card game a game of chance.

While concluding his arguments, Singhvi pointed out how rummy did not fall under the ambit of a valid ban when liquor, smoking and lotteries were permitted in the state and revenues generated from them.

The hearing is scheduled to tomorrow afternoon, with Singhvi set to make his concluding arguments.

The Court today also informed that the challenge to the online poker ban would be heard after the hearings of petitions challenging the online rummy ban were concluded.

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