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Madras HC to Pronounce Judgment on Pleas Challenging Tamil Nadu’s Online Gaming Ban on August 3

Madras HC to Pronounce Judgement on Pleas Challenging Tamil Nadu’s Online Gaming Ban on August 3
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  • Attreyee Khasnabis July 27, 2021
  • 4 Minutes Read

A sliver of hope seems to be arising for the real-money online gaming industry in Tamil Nadu. On July 26, the first bench of the Madras High Court comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy heard several pleas challenging the Tamil Nadu Gaming and Police Laws (Amendment) Act 2021. Advocate General R Shunmugasundaram also submitted the government’s defense of the law. The High Court reserved its judgment for August 3 to be delivered through video conferencing.

The Tamil Nadu Gaming and Police Laws (Amendment) Act 2021 was passed by the Tamil Nadu state assembly in February, not just banning real-money online gaming but also making it a criminal offense. The law was previously an ordinance that had been promulgated by Governor Banwarilal Purohit in November 2020.

Banwarilal Purohit
Banwarilal Purohit

 

According to the law, playing real money games in the state is punishable with a ₹5,000 fine and six months imprisonment. Those offering such online games in the state would be considered running a common gaming house and penalized with a fine of ₹10,000- and two years imprisonment. This also includes bans on electronic transfer of funds used for wagering and betting, distributing the winnings, prize money, etc.

Tamil Nadu had previously provided a vast market for online gaming, especially online rummy. The unequivocal ban on real-money skill games dealt a massive blow to companies that offered these services and players who made a living off the game.

In fact, when the ordinance was first promulgated last year, the online gaming platform Junglee Games India Private Limited had filed a writ petition challenging the constitutional validity of the ordinance. The petitioners urged the court to stay the ordinance till the disposal of their case. However, a third Division Bench of Justices R. Subbiah and C. Saravanan, on December 7, denied the request for an interim stay on the real-money gambling ban.

Several online rummy companies approached the Madras High Court with pleas to have the ban revoked. Appearing for the various online rummy companies, senior advocates Abhishek Manu Singhvi, AK Ganguli, C. Aryama Sundaram, and P.S. Raman argued that games of skill, such as rummy and poker, cannot be subjected to a blanket ban on cyberspace.

In the July 23 session, Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee criticized the state government’s blanket ban on online gaming. He had brought to light how denying an individual from earning their livelihood through their gaming skills is a gross violation of their rights.

Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee
Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee

 

Advocate General R. Shunmugasundaram, representing the state, defended the government’s action by drawing attention to the cases where some people committed suicide after losing a lot of money due to their addiction to online games. The Chief Justice had retorted by saying, “Just because one mad man had indulged in such thing does not mean you can impose a blanket ban on all games of skill.”

Advocate General R. Shunmugasundaram
Advocate General R. Shunmugasundaram

 

On Monday, the Advocate General defended the state’s stance by claiming that the government was well within its power to issue such a ban in the public interest and protect vulnerable persons from losing in such online games. Trying to carve out an exception in terms of competition vis-a-vis betting. Shunmugasundaram further clarified that it did not matter to the state government whether the games in question were played based on skill or chance, as the ban would apply wherever betting was involved.

While it is correct that the government is well within its powers to frame and implement such laws, the judicial machinery also can ask the state to re-examine its laws. As expected, the bench was not impressed by the Advocate General’s arguments and stated that the government had not effectively refuted the points raised by the gaming firms.

Additionally, the ban in the present form left many issues unanswered. It also reminded the state that it was at liberty to prohibit vulnerable people from playing such online games but not the game itself.

At present, the High Court has reserved its judgment till August 3. While the High Court overturning the ban imposed by the state government is unlikely, there is a chance that the state may be asked to re-evaluate its stance and make an exception for games of skill.

This is a developing story, and the latest updates will be posted here.

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