Online gambling Act | Ban won’t apply to poker, rummy: Madras High Court

Chief Justice Sanjay V. Gangapurwala and Justice P.D. Audikesavalu rule that the prohibition under the 2022 Act will apply only to games of chance and not games of skill

Updated - November 13, 2023 02:07 pm IST

Published - November 09, 2023 03:14 pm IST - CHENNAI

The Madras High Court said the State government had miserably failed to demonstrate how rummy and poker, declared as games of skill by the Supreme Court, would become games of chance when played online. Image for representation.

The Madras High Court said the State government had miserably failed to demonstrate how rummy and poker, declared as games of skill by the Supreme Court, would become games of chance when played online. Image for representation. | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Madras High Court on Thursday, November 9, 2023 refused to strike down the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Online Gambling and Regulation of Online Games Act, 2022 in its entirety, but ruled that the prohibition would apply only to games of chance and not to games of skill such as rummy and poker.

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The first Division Bench of Chief Justice Sanjay V. Gangapurwala and Justice P.D. Audikesavalu said the State government had miserably failed to demonstrate how rummy and poker, declared as games of skill by the Supreme Court, would become games of chance when played online.

“The contention of the State that the petitioners (online gaming companies) may use bots is without any basis. The said propositions, on behalf of the State, are merely on surmise,” the Bench said, and pointed out that the 2022 Act specifically deals only with online games and not offline games.

“The State could not gather authentic evidence about bots being used or that the software knows all the cards in the hands of each player, so also the unopened cards or that the software could change the unopened cards. In the absence thereof, it will be too far-fetched to arrive at a decision on the basis of assumptions by the State,” it added.

Authoring the verdict, the Chief Justice wrote: “We are now transcending into the era of digitisation and entertainment. People, instead of playing in clubs, are now playing online. With the rise of internet connectivity and technological advancements, we see a spurt in online games. Many online games are in vogue.”

“The games of rummy and poker, which are considered as games of skill, are now also sought to be played online. In online games of rummy and poker also, the same brain activity would be involved as required for offline games of rummy and poker,” he said.

“Corruption or mischief in a game may not define the game. Of course, in an isolated case, if it is noticed by the State that the petitioners or any other online games servers/online games providers are using bots or have indulged in any illegal activity, it can take action against it,” the Bench said.

The judges recognised the right of the State government to frame regulations with respect to imposing age restrictions on the players of online games, fixing monetary and time limits within which the games could be played, and other such restrictions required to implement the 2022 Act.

The court delivered the verdict while partly allowing a batch of writ petitions filed by the All India Gaming Federation and a host of individual online gaming companies challenging the constitutional validity of the law. The Bench held that the definition of the term ‘online gambling’ under Section 2(i) of the Act should be restricted to games of chance.

They also read down Section 2(l)(iv) of the Act, which defined the term ‘online game of chance’ to mean that it would exclude games of skill, namely rummy and poker. The schedule to the Act, which had specifically named rummy and poker under the head of ‘online games of chance’, was also set aside.

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