Tamil Nadu Governor R.N. Ravi’s assent, on April 7, to the Bill prohibiting online gambling and regulating online games in the State, has brought closure to a controversial issue. Almost all parties, including the AIADMK and the BJP, have backed the legislation, now called the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Online Gambling and Regulation of Online Games Act. The passage of the Bill has seen ups and downs. About a month ago, the Governor returned the Bill, on the grounds that the State Assembly had “no legislative competence” to enact such a law. In late March, the House re-adopted and sent the Bill back to him. In the meantime, Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting Anurag Thakur had, referring to the presence of “betting and gambling” in the State List (Entry 34), clarified in Parliament that online gambling too came under the jurisdiction of States. The news that the piece of legislation had received the assent of the Governor came out on April 10 — the day the House had adopted a resolution urging the President and the Union government to ensure time-bound gubernatorial assent to Bills passed.
The Governor’s approach to the Bill — of late assent — is in contrast to when he approved an identical ordinance in October last. His meeting with e-gaming industry representatives, even as the Bill was under his consideration, came in for criticism. Adding to the intrigue was the Raj Bhavan’s silence over four months when the Bill was with the Governor. In fact, on the day that the Raj Bhavan returned the Bill to the Assembly (March 8), there was no official word from the Governor’s side in support of his stand. Mr. Ravi could have deflected criticism had he made his stand open, as he had done to a Bill that he had returned in February 2022, seeking exemption for students of the State from the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for medicine (this Bill is awaiting presidential assent). Further, with the Centre having notified the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, there should be no confusion as far as enforcing the law is concerned — which has to be done in conjunction with the IT Act, 2000. Addiction to online gaming has resulted in financial distress in many a family and also caused serious health issues. Even while seeking to implement the law banning online gambling and online games of chance (rummy and poker), the proposed Tamil Nadu Online Gaming Authority should ensure a balance: no restrictions on online games permitted under the Act as well as monitoring of online game providers. In an ever-evolving digital world, it would be in the interests of all to create an environment for healthy online games.