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The trials and tribulations of the Indian online gaming industry are far from over. On October 7, Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi signed and approved a new ordinance banning online games for stakes in the state. While this was a massive blow to the online gaming sector, RMG companies and organizations have not lost hope. They fought the blanket ban on online gaming last year and won, and they are prepared to do it again.
According to sources, the relevant stakeholders will likely challenge the Tamil Nadu gaming ban in the High Court soon. Stakeholders and lawyers with knowledge of the development said the ordinance, approved by the Tamil Nadu cabinet on September 26, “goes against many years of established court orders.”
Tamil Nadu’s latest ordinance to ban online gaming comes at a time when the Supreme Court is hearing a repeal of the previous online gaming bans implemented by the state governments in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. On September 16, a Supreme Court bench comprising Justice Abdul Nazeer and Justice V Ramasubramanian clubbed the Karnataka government’s appeal with the Tamil Nadu government petition. Both cases are expected to be heard jointly by a new bench.
Skill-based gaming firms Junglee Games, Play Games24x7, Head Digital Works, and industry body All India Gaming Federation (AIGF) are among the respondents listed in the Tamil Nadu Supreme Court plea challenging the Madras High Court’s August 2020 judgment. These companies and gaming bodies are, in all probability, going to be among the petitioners to approach the state High Court and it can`t be ruled out that the primary relief would be to get a stay on the new Tamil Nadu ordinance until the apex court gives a decision on the appeal.
While several key players in the industry are gearing up to fight against the ordinance, many leading gaming platforms have already stopped accepting players from the state.
PokerBaazi, Adda52 & PokerDangal Block Tamil Nadu Players
With the ordinance’s passing, online poker sites, PokerBaazi, Adda52, and PokerDangal, have banned players from Tamil Nadu from their platforms. These sites have already updated their terms and conditions with the disclaimer that players from Tamil Nadu can no longer access the sites.
PokerBaazi: “It may be noted that States are permitted, by the Indian Constitution, to enact laws regulating betting and gambling in their respective jurisdictions. In furtherance of these powers, various States have enacted anti-gambling legislations. Such legislations are largely in concert with the Public Gambling Act of 1867 (and include the exception of “games of skill”). Where State legislations on gambling exists, it prevails over the Public Gambling Act of 1867. In this regard, the Assam Game and Betting Act, 1070 and Odisha (Prevention) Gambling Act, 1995 and Telangana State Gaming (Amendment), and the Amendment to the Andhra Pradesh Gaming Act, 1974, and the Ordinance and High Court Judgment in Gujarat, 2017 prohibits games with money stakes and also does not create an exception for games of skill. Therefore, currently, residents of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana are not permitted to play on our site.”
Adda52: “We allow players from all states and union territories in India except Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Odisha, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana. Due to the peculiar wording of gaming legislations in these states, at present, we do not permit residents of these states to play real money poker.”
PokerDangal: “As per the new ordinance, we are banning Tamil Nadu players from playing.”
Simultaneously, PokerStars India is in the process of exiting the state. “We have started the process of exiting the market. As of now, they can still play but will be restricted within this week or the next.”
Spartan Poker, which is currently hosting its inaugural Diwali Celebration Series, is yet to ban players from Tamil Nadu.
RummyCircle and Junglee Rummy are among the online rummy portals that have blocked access to players in Tamil Nadu.
Implications of the New Ordinance
Tamil Nadu is the sixth most populated state in India. While the ordinance is a significant roadblock for the online gaming industry, it can still be fought. But there is no denying that with the ordinance being passed just before Diwali, it will hugely impact gaming portals that have planned massive offers, promotions, and tournaments for the festive season.
This will be the second time the industry will challenge a Tamil Nadu government-approved ordinance after the Madras High Court struck down a similar ordinance banning online rummy, poker, and other similar games in August last year, deeming it against legal norms.
Jay Sayta, a Technology & Gaming lawyer, who was part of the previous legal battle in the Madras High Court, shared his views on the latest ordinance.
“The definition of online gambling and online games of chance, as well as artificially deeming poker and rummy as online games of chance in the new Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Online Gambling and Regulation of Online Games Ordinance, 2022, goes against past judicial precedents and court rulings. Further, it is not clear if the notification declaring the appointed date for bringing the ordinance into force has been issued, and the Tamil Nadu Online Gaming Authority has been established.”
“Until the Ordinance is brought into force by a separate notification and the Gaming Authority is established, the law cannot be implemented. Since the new law is contrary to judgments and well-established jurisprudence on games of skill, it is sure to be challenged in courts.”
What to Expect in the Coming Days?
Sayta said the ordinance would be challenged in courts as early as next week by gaming operators and other industry stakeholders. However, unlike the earlier attempted ban on online gaming, lawyers said with this ordinance, the Tamil Nadu government is looking to take a case-wise approach.
Industry bodies, too, expressed “surprise” and “disappointment” at the ordinance. Sameer Barde, chief executive of E-Gaming Federation, said rummy’s position as a game of skill “has been ruled by the Supreme Court as a protected trade under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.”
He said that classifying it as a game of chance is “directly in violation of Supreme Court and High Court judgments.”
Roland Landers, chief executive of the All India Gaming Federation, noted that a Supreme Court hearing on this matter is slated for next month. Therefore, passing the ordinance in the interim supersedes the same. Sayta said that while the hearing could have a lasting say on whether the ordinance would stand, reaching a verdict on it could take “months, or even years.”
This is a developing story. Keep following PokerGuru for the latest updates!