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A day after the Madras High Court struck down the Tamil Nadu Gaming and Police Laws (Amendment) Act 2021, calling it ‘excessive and disproportionate’ to the objective sought to achieve, the state government doubled down on its intention to ban online gaming.
A statement issued by State Law Minister S. Regupathy earlier today stated that public interest was more important than regulating real money online gaming. He made the government’s intentions clear, stating that a law banning online games like rummy will be tabled soon following due procedures and specifying valid reasons.
Tamil Nadu Government Unrelenting on Banning Real Money Online Gaming
Even after the Tamil Nadu Gaming and Police Laws (Amendment) Act 2021 was struck down by the first bench of the Madras High Court on August 3, the state government is unwilling to allow real money online gaming in Tamil Nadu.
In the last two hearings held on July 23 and July 26, Advocate General R. Shunmugasundaram, representing the state government, had focused his arguments solely on the fact that people committed suicide after losing heaps of money due to their addiction to online games.
Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee had rebutted this argument 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.”
Senior advocate P.S. Raman, one of the lawyers representing the online rummy companies that had filed the writ petition challenging the ban, also pointed out how the festival, Jallikattu, resulted in nearly 20 deaths every year. In comparison, some seven people have died in five years due to playing online games. He pointed out how the Supreme Court had placed a ban on Jallikattu that the state government has chosen to ignore conveniently.
On August 3, the counsel for the online gaming companies had argued, “Since 1968, the Supreme Court has made it clear that rummy is a game of skill and not a game of chance. Therefore, online rummy cannot be banned.”
The Madras High Court had also opined that a wide-ranging ban on games of skill falls foul of Article 19 (1)(g) (right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade, or business) of the Constitution.
The Advocate General responded that while the Supreme Court had said that rummy was a game of skill, the nation’s highest judicial authority did not distinguish whether the game would continue to be considered a game of skill when played online. Harping on this fact, the Advocate General further added that “Manipulation is possible on cyberspace.”
Chief Justice Banerjee slammed back, saying, “Then, you regulate it. You can’t ban the games altogether.”
Nevertheless, it seems like the Chief Justice’s wise words have fallen on deaf ears. The state Law Minister S. Regupathy announced, earlier today, that Chief Minister M. K. Stalin has advised for passing another law to ban online rummy. This law will specifically mention the rules and reasons for the ban to safeguard the general public’s welfare, a move possibly to avoid a similar legal challenge in the future.
In his statement, Regupathy said that Chief Minister has directed that “a law banning online rummy games should be enacted without any delay, clearly stating the relevant rules and appropriate reasons as the public interest is paramount.”
He added, “Therefore, by the order of the Hon’ble Chief Minister, I would like to inform you that the law banning games like online rummy in Tamil Nadu will be brought soon.”
Completely ignoring the High Court’s advice of regulating online gaming, Reghupathy instead stated that the court had said the government did not specify the reasons for banning online gaming when the law was made, and that was the reason for it becoming invalid.
AIGF & Jay Sayta Weigh In On The Madras High Court’s Judgment
Despite the state government’s reaction to the Tamil Nadu Gaming and Police Laws (Amendment) Act 2021 getting struck down, there is no denying that the judgment was a landmark one for India’s nascent but burgeoning online gaming sector.
Welcoming the order, the CEO of All India Gaming Federation (AIGF), Roland Landers, said, “We welcome the order of the Madras High Court which iterates that the Court is not against online gaming, and calls for the government to devise a regulatory framework to provide clarity to the sunrise online gaming industry with a view to encourage investments leading to technological advancements as well as generation of revenue and employment.”
“As the oldest online skill gaming industry body, the All India Gaming Federation (AIGF) has most of the stakeholders of the online gaming industry as its members. We at AIGF have been at the forefront of ensuring global best practices for its stakeholders through the self-regulation skill games charter that covers all aspects of the online gaming business, overseen by an advisory of experts. To reinforce its process, AIGF has also partnered with Arthur D. Little (ADL) and looks forward to wholeheartedly supporting and offering its expertise and experience, if required to the government in this endeavor,” further added.
Jay Sayta, an expert on gambling laws and a technology lawyer who appeared for one of the petitoners in the matter, also shared his views: “The Madras High Court has struck down provisions of the Tamil Nadu Gaming and Police Laws (Amendment) Act, 2021, which prohibited and criminalized playing online games for a bet, wager or other stakes. These provisions had obliterated the differentiation between games of skill and chance, which runs contrary to well-established jurisprudence laid down by the Supreme Court.
The court has accepted that running online games falls under the right to carry on trade and commerce guaranteed under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution and has asked the state government to introduce a proportionate, balanced, and least-intrusive legislation to regulate the online skill-gaming industry if they so desire. The historic verdict is a boost for the nascent and burgeoning online gaming industry.”
The state government’s retaliation to the Tamil Nadu Gaming and Police Laws (Amendment) Act 2021 getting thrown out seems like it will be a protracted battle for the online gaming operators in south India.
Fighting for legalization is nothing new for online poker and rummy companies, not just in India but also across the world. However, the Madras High Court’s judgment is a big shot in the arm for an industry still struggling for legal acceptance.