Madras HC strikes down Tamil Nadu law banning online games with stakes

Madras HC on Tuesday struck down the recent amendment made to the Tamil Nadu Gaming Act, passed in 1930, which imposed a ban on online games such as rummy and poker with stakes.

The Madras High Court on Tuesday struck down the Tamil Nadu Gaming and Police Laws (Amendment) Act of 2021, which bans playing of online games such as Rummy and Poker on cyberspace with stakes. The decision came after hearing the writ petitions filed by a host of private companies offering online games. The petitioners asserted the fact that they had been running legitimate businesses across the country and therefore their businesses can’t be banned in the state of Tamil Nadu by terming them illegitimate.

During the hearing of the case, Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy observed that the blanket ban on these online games which are termed to be the ‘skill games’ is unconstitutional and said that the Amendment to the Tamil Nadu Gaming Act, which was passed in 1930, falls foul of Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution which gives people the right to practise any profession.

The bench of judges also observed that the legislation imposing ban should be taken as ‘excessive and disproportionate’ to the object sought to be achieved. It was also ruled that the State legislature would be at liberty to enact new legislation for regulating online games.

Why Tamil Nadu banned online games?

With the arrival and affordability of the Internet in India, arcade-based multiplayer games moved online making it easy for the masses to play them. While some games were free for most users, other online card games like Rummy, Poker and Blackjack required players to invest some money to enter the game to play with other players across different states or even across different countries.

The amendment was first inserted in the law by the previous AIADMK government via an ordinance in November 2020. The amendment was brought because the state government believed that due to online gaming, innocent people, mainly youngsters, are being cheated, losing their money and some people have even committed suicide. In order to stop the occurrences of such cases in Tamil Nadu, the state government decided to ban online gaming.

Apart from this, wagering or betting in cyberspace or any sort of electronic transfer of funds to distribute prize money was also banned in the state.

What does Article 19(1)(g) say?

The Constitution of India has recognised the right to trade as a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution which allows citizens “to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.”

As per the order released by Madras High Court recently, the ban on online card games had fallen foul of Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution as the article allows people the right to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business in the country.

However, the bench has also given the liberty to the state government to enact new legislation for the regulation of online games. The court also clarified that this judgment will not prevent the state government to further introduce appropriate legislation regarding the games present in cyberspace.

Other than this, the court has mentioned that the amendment was “ultra vires” to the constitution and therefore, these online card games like online Rummy and Poker cannot be banned.

Other states that have banned online gambling

While gambling and betting as a sport are banned across the country, but still there are about ten states in India like Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Kerala, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Nagaland, Punjab, Sikkim and West Bengal where the culture of lottery systems exists. Also, people in the above states still believe in invest in lottery tickets.

However, as far as online games are concerned, many states have opposed the playing of such games which involves online gambling and betting as it is hard to track these online games in terms of investment. States like Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have banned some forms of online games and gambling, while Karnataka in recent months is also considering to bring in a law to monitor online games in the state.

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