The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a petition filed by the Tamil Nadu government challenging a Madras High Court judgment which struck down a statutory ban on games like Rummy and Poker, played online for a wager, bet, money or other stakes.
A Bench of Justices Aniruddha Bose and Bela M. Trivedi scheduled the hearing on September 22, saying it would consider on that day whether the petitions would survive.
“A game of Rummy played online is equivalent to a game played in the physical space,” Tamil Nadu Additional Advocate General Amit Anand Tiwari addressed the court.
Mr. Tiwari said the Supreme Court has already held in 1968 in the Andhra Pradesh versus K. Satyanarayana case that “Rummy is a game of chance and there is no skill involved in it”.
In August 2021, the High Court had found the amendments brought in through the Tamil Nadu Gaming and Police Laws (Amendment) Act, 2021 unconstitutional and violative of the fundamental right to practice a profession, occupation or trade under Article 19 (1)(g) of the Constitution. Several online game portals, including Junglee Games India Pvt. Ltd had approached the High Court against the amendments, saying they were “paternalistic”.
The High Court had found the blanket ban on the online “games of skill” as manifestly arbitrary. The August 2021 judgment had said the State had found itself “in a lonely corner, asserting the virtues of life without betting and gambling, the immorality involved in gaming and the ill-effects of gambling on larger swathes if the society, particularly those from the economically weaker and socially backward sections”. Even suicides were blamed on losses from online gaming.
The High Court had found that the online games in question involved skill to which the stigma of gambling cannot be attached. It referred to Supreme Court judgments which distinguished between games of “chance”, in which success did not depend to any substantial degree on skill, and those which required a certain adroitness or expertise.
“A game of Rummy played online is equivalent to a game played in the physical space,” Tamil Nadu Additional Advocate General Amit Anand Tiwari made a preliminary counter in court on Monday.
Mr. Tiwari said the Supreme Court had already held in 1968 in the Andhra Pradesh versus K. Satyanarayana case that “Rummy is a game of chance and there is no skill involved in it”.
The High Court had concluded that the online games of skill did not amount to gambling but a business activity under Article 19. A skilled player had every right to exploit his expertise and earn a living. A complete ban on the games was an overkill and far more than a “reasonable restriction” under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. The August 2021 judgment of the High Court said the State had failed to justifying its sweeping ban on the online games.
However, the High Court had said its judgment would not prevent “an appropriate legislation confirming to the constitutional sense of propriety being brought in the field of betting and gambling by the State of Tamil Nadu”.