Will resend bill to ban online gambling to governor Ravi, says Tamil Nadu govt

Mar 10, 2023 04:27 AM IST

The Tamil Nadu cabinet on Thursday decided to reintroduce the bill banning online gambling in the assembly.

Chennai: Tamil Nadu law minister S Reghupathy on Thursday said the state assembly will pass a bill to ban online gambling and send it for approval to governor R N Ravi, who, on Wednesday, returned the bill saying that the state assembly was not competent to frame a law on the subject.

Chennai, Jan 30 (ANI): Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi exchanges greetings with State Chief Minister MK Stalin at the tribute-paying ceremony of Mahatma Gandhi on his death anniversary, at the Government Museum, Egmore, in Chennai on Monday. (ANI Photo) (Anathakrishnan L)
Chennai, Jan 30 (ANI): Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi exchanges greetings with State Chief Minister MK Stalin at the tribute-paying ceremony of Mahatma Gandhi on his death anniversary, at the Government Museum, Egmore, in Chennai on Monday. (ANI Photo) (Anathakrishnan L)

The Tamil Nadu cabinet on Thursday decided to reintroduce the bill banning online gambling in the assembly. “In the meeting led by the chief minister today (Thursday), we have made this decision,” the law minister told reporters. “The Governor has said that the state does not have the competence. We will be re-introducing the Bill and sending it to him stating that we have the competence since the issue comes under the State list in the Constitution so only a state government can pass this Bill.”

According to a Tamil Nadu government official, the governor’s house has informed the state government that only the Central government is competent to frame law on the subject of online gambling. Ravi’s decision comes against the backdrop of state police officials claiming that 44 people have died by suicide due to online gambling in the last two years. The state legislative assembly unanimously passed the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Online Games Bill on October 19 .

At the core of the latest disagreement between the state government and the governor is the division of powers between the Centre and the states according to the Constitution. While gambling and betting are state subjects, communication is a Central subject.

Also read: ‘Governors only have mouths, not ears': TN CM on row over anti-gambling bill

Interestingly, on October 1 last year, the governor approved an ordinance banning online gambling. His predecessor Banwarilal Purohit, in November 2020, approved a bill enacted by the then AIADMK government on the same, although this was overturned when gaming companies challenged it in the Madras high court.

Law minister S Reghupathy said that the court listed shortcomings in the bill and had observed that the state could enact a fresh legislation after correcting those shortcomings. “Since the court has said that the state assembly has the powers to enact such legislation, we don’t understand on what grounds the Governor has returned the Bill,” the minister said.

“We will go through the points of the Governor and the Chief Minister will give a clear response. If the state sssembly adopts this Bill again and sends it to the Governor, he must give his assent for this. As per the law, he cannot deny assent to a bill sent to him for the second time.”

However, constitutionally there is no time-frame for a Governor to give his consent to a bill.

As per the orders of the Supreme Court and various high courts, games of chance and games of skill (where there is application of mind) have been differentiated, said cyber law advocate N Karthikeyan. “Whether rummy is gambling is a question of law,” Karthikeyan said. “Game of chance is illegal whereas game of skill is considered to be legal. As per Article 19 (1) (g) of the Indian Constitution every citizen has the freedom of trade and business. If rummy has not been declared as illegal, how can a state government pass a law declaring it as illegal? Even if this is accepted as a law, immediately online gaming companies will approach the high court.”

The Union government has already announced that it has plans to bring a law to control online gambling. IT minister Ashwani Vaishnav said in December that he met state IT ministers and discussed the issue.

Betting and gambling are subjects mentioned under Part II of the State list, which means that the state government formulate local laws to regulate such activities. Currently, there is only one law that regulates gambling in India – The Public Gambling Act, 1867. This legislation lays down that the state governments can frame their own laws by adopting the 1867 Act.

The law is silent on online gaming.

There are cases involving online games, including online poker and rummy before different high courts, leading to divergent views. A raft of appeals from the high court judgments on the subject are pending before the Supreme Court.

The absence of a uniform framework coupled with an authoritative decision of the apex court has thus left a legal vacuum in regulation of online gaming.

In July 2018, the Law Commission recommended a central law, stating that Parliament had the jurisdiction to enact laws related to online betting and gambling because they take place over the Internet, and Entry 31 of the Union List covers telephones, wireless, broadcasting and other similar forms of communication.

Similarly, in December 2020, Niti Aayog also released a draft report for public discussion on the regulation of online fantasy sports. The government’s think tank proposed creating a uniform national level safe harbour framework for fantasy sports that would also specify how to determine which of these games were games of skill. Indian law allows games of skill.

As of now, the petitions of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are pending with the Supreme Court against the state high courts scrapping bans on online gambling for being “unconstitutional, arbitrary” and restrictive on “trade practices”.

Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have claimed that the state have legislative competence to pass laws on online gambling saying they have powers to regulate gambling and betting as well as sports and entertainment.

On 3 February last year, Ravi returned the Undergraduate Medical Courses, 2021 Bill to the state assembly five months after it was sent to him. The anti-NEET Bill was passed by the state assembly in September 2021 with the support of all parties except the BJP. Stalin called for an all-party meeting and the anti-NEET Bill was adopted again and sent to the Governor for the second time who then forwarded it to the President of India.

In November , MPs of the Secular Progressive Alliance, the grouping headed by the DMK submitted a petition to President Droupadi Murmu to recall the Governor. The petition listed 20 Bills passed in the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly which are pending with Governor Ravi since he took over in September 2021.

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    Divya Chandrababu is an award-winning political and human rights journalist based in Chennai, India. Divya is presently Assistant Editor of the Hindustan Times where she covers Tamil Nadu & Puducherry. She started her career as a broadcast journalist at NDTV-Hindu where she anchored and wrote prime time news bulletins. Later, she covered politics, development, mental health, child and disability rights for The Times of India. Divya has been a journalism fellow for several programs including the Asia Journalism Fellowship at Singapore and the KAS Media Asia- The Caravan for narrative journalism. Divya has a master's in politics and international studies from the University of Warwick, UK. As an independent journalist Divya has written for Indian and foreign publications on domestic and international affairs.

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