‘Games of skill’: High court scraps TN law that banned online games with stakes
CHENNAI: The Madras high court on Tuesday struck down an amendment to the Tamil Nadu Gaming Act that banned online games including online rummy and online poker with stakes, ruling that the amendment first inserted in the law by the previous AIADMK government via an ordinance in November 2020, was “ultra vires” to the constitution.
The bench comprising chief justice Sanjib Banerjee and justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy said the state completely failed to meet the “least intrusive” measure test by imposing a wide-ranging blanket ban, and therefore, the amendment falls foul of Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution which gives people the right to practise any profession.
The verdict came on a batch of petitions by online gaming companies challenging the blanket ban.
The court said the legislation “has to be regarded as something done by the legislature capriciously, irrationally and without adequate determining principle such that it is excessive and disproportionate…”
The court also drew in international sportspersons to make the distinction in skills of playing sports and games physically on the field, board games such as cards and scrabble and playing in cyberspace.
“It is true that Arnold Palmer or Severiano Ballesteros may never have mastered how golf is played on the computer or Messi or Ronaldo may be outplayed by a team of infants in a virtual game of football, but Viswanathan Anand or Omar Sharif would not be so disadvantaged when playing their chosen games of skill on the virtual mode,” the court said.
This distinction, the court ruled, is completely lost in the amending Act as the original scheme in the 1930 law to confine gaming to games of chance has been turned upside down and all games were outlawed if played for a stake or for any prize.
“There appears to be a little doubt that both rummy and poker are games of skill as they involve considerable memory, working out of percentages, the ability to follow the cards on the table and constantly adjust to the changing possibilities of the unseen cards,” the court said.
The bench added that though poker may not have been recognised in any previous judgment in India to be a game of skill, an American case even convinced the Law Commission to accept poker as a game of skill in its 276th Report.
The previous AIADMK government brought in the amendment on the ground that teenagers and young adults were losing money in online betting games and cited instances where some of them died by suicide.
“All that can be said is that the Amending Act is so unequivocally audacious that it rules out any element of choice that an individual may exercise,” the court said adding that some regulation can still be exercised.
The All India Gaming Federation, an apex industry body whose self-regulation charter includes Fantasy Sports, Online Poker, Rummy, welcomed the judgment.
“It 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,” said Roland Landers, CEO, All India Gaming Federation.