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Amidst the numerous positive developments in the Indian gaming sector, comes news of a disappointing setback. At a time when several online rummy operators have sought legal relief from the High Court of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh at Hyderabad against the provisions of the Telangana Prevention of Dangerous Activities Amendment Bill 2017, President of India, Ram Nath Kovind has given his approval to the Bill, rendering it effective and in force.
The new Bill brings wagering or betting on games of skill like rummy and its online versions under the ambit of dangerous activities. As per a report published by Glaws.in, the formal approval by the President was given after careful examination of the Bill in its amended form, by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs.
For Telangana that was till 2017, one of the most bustling markets for online gaming and specifically online rummy in the country, the move has made the possibility of a gaming revival in the state, even bleaker.
The regressive move towards banning of gaming in the state began in June 2017 when the state government imposed a blanket ban on gaming by issuing two ordinances in close succession.
Gaming operators including stakeholders in the real and online gaming industry including poker, fantasy sports and rummy operators largely opposed this, claiming that rendering gaming illegal would only serve to push the industry into the realm of illegal operations and the government should instead work to create a transparent and functional framework to permit controlled and supervised gaming.
Online rummy operators, Ace2Three, Junglee Rummy, Rummy Circle and Classic Rummy challenged the government’s decision in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
However, amid immense public and political pressure, the state government followed up the ordinances by bringing in the Telangana Gaming (Amendment) Bill to bolster the ban on real money gaming.
Following the approval of the Bill by the lower house of the state legislature on November 13, 2017 and the state legislative council on November 15, the governor of Telangana, ESL Narasimhan gave his assent to the Bill. The aforementioned rummy operators amended their writ petitions and prayers accordingly, before the High Court.
It’s been more than a year now that the matter remains sub-judice before the High Court. In the meantime, the Telangana Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Dacoits, Drug-Offenders, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Offenders and Land-Grabbers (Amendment) Bill was sent to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs that sought several clarifications on the same from the state government. With the President now giving his assent to the Bill, offline and online rummy in Telangana has been clubbed under the ambit of dangerous activities like dacoity, drug peddling and kidnapping.
In other words, games of skill like rummy are not only considered illegal, but will also be considered a punishable offence, allowing concerned authorities to detain any individual who has committed an ‘offence’ under the Gaming Act, for a period of up to 12 months without bail or trial.
Meanwhile, the High Court is yet to give a ruling in the writ petitions filed by the rummy operators. In recent months, the cases have been extensively heard by a division bench of Chief Justice TB Radhakrishnan and Justice V Ramasubramanian. The last hearing was heldon October 3 and is slated to be heard next on October 10.
It is clear that in absence of a definitive support coming in from the court, the future of online gaming in Telangana is shrouded under a cloud of uncertainty.