Madras High Court doubts whether law banning online games with stakes will stand the test of law

Judges say it has been poorly drafted and not backed by any data or a study

Published - July 24, 2021 12:43 am IST - CHENNAI

The Madras High Court on Friday doubted whether the Tamil Nadu Gaming and Police Laws (Amendment) Act of 2021, aimed at banning games such as rummy and poker played with stakes on the cyberspace, would stand the test of law. It said the law had been drafted very poorly and it appeared that the government had imposed a blanket ban on games of skill too merely on the basis of its sense of morality just before the Assembly elections.

Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy told Advocate General R. Shunmugasundaram that the government had neither conducted any study on the possible ill effects nor was there any empirical data available with the government to take such a decision. They said there also did not appear to have been any elaborate debate that had taken place in the Assembly before the law was passed in February this year.

“There’s no doubt that you have the authority to pass a law on the subject. We will also give you the benefit of the presumption that you are doing it for the benefit of the people but that does not mean you can crack the whip beyond acceptable parameters. This Act appears not to take cognisance of a body of jurisprudence that had preceded on the subject. It appears to be jumbled and confused,” the Chief Justice said.

He went on to state: “Gambling is an activity whose outcome is purely based on chance and not skill. Betting is completely different from gambling. Here, the Act appears to have been drafted haphazardly that one part does not agree with the other and does not even address the issue you want to address.” He also stated that the court would have to see whether the State had been arbitrary in preventing a gamer from displaying his skill.

Pointing out that certain card games such as contract bridge were purely games of skill which require a very high intelligence quotient (IQ) to play them, the Chief Justice said Egyptian actor Omar Sharif was an authority in contract bridge and he had made a fortune by exploiting his craft. Won’t a blanket ban by the State on playing the game, violate the rights of people like him in displaying their skills, the Chief Justice wondered.

On the other hand, the A-G told the court that some people in the State had committed suicide after losing money heavily due to their addiction to online games and that one person had gone to the extent of attempting to kill his daughters when they refused to give money. Chief Justice Banerjee was to quick to retort: “Just because one mad man had indulged in such thing, does not mean you can impose a blanket ban on all games of skill.”

Earlier, a battery of senior counsel including Abhishek Manu Singhvi, A.K. Ganguli, C. Aryama Sundaram and P.S. Raman appeared for various companies that were offering online games and attacked the State legislation. Mr. Raman said the government had chosen to impose a blanket ban on online rummy, poker and so on just because seven deaths had been reported in last five years due to the addiction to the games.

Claiming that around 20 people die in Jallikattu every year, he said, a State which wants such a sport to continue despite a Supreme Court ban had chosen to ban online games alone because some seven people had died in five years. Further, questioning the logic behind banning online games alone, he asked: “How can an event which is not a crime in the physical world become a crime in the virtual world?” The senior counsel insisted on striking down the entire Act.

After hearing them out, the judges adjourned the matter to Monday for the A-G to continue his arguments.

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