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Kerala High Court quashes state government’s ban on online rummy

The ruling deals yet another blow to the many attempts by Indian states at regulating online betting and gambling.

The Kerala High Court on September 28 quashed a notification by the Kerala state government that banned the card game rummy. The ban, issued by the Kerala government under Section 14A of the Kerala Gaming Act, 1960 in February, came in the form of a notification. The court ruled that the notification was “arbitrary” and violated the right to do business guaranteed under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India.

The ruling came in Gameskraft Technologies Pvt. Ltd. v. State of Kerala. MediaNama has reviewed a copy of the ruling. “The Counsel have placed all their cards on the table. My effort is to arrange them in sets and to declare. If I arrange the cards skilfully and declare [my judgment], then “Rummy is a game of MERE skill”. If I arrange the cards without any skill and still manage to declare, then “Rummy is a game of chance,” Justice TR Ravi wrote in the order.

The move presents yet another setback to Indian states’ attempts to regulate online betting and gambling by way of prohibition. As proven by the Madras High Court which recently struck down (Kerala’s neighbour) Tamil Nadu’s online gambling prohibition, online gambling and betting operators have benefited from courts frequently holding that “games of skill” — where the outcome isn’t entirely dependent on luck, like in a lottery — cannot be outright prohibited, as it cannot be legally classified as gambling.

Industry welcomes ban rollback

Justice Vikramajit Sen, Member of the Skill Games Council and a former Supreme Court judge, said in a statement provided to MediaNama by a PR firm representing the so-called real money gaming industry, “In the last few years, the interest in the online skill gaming has been growing exponentially in the country. The Supreme Court and multiple high courts have reiterated numerous times that online games of skill are protected under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. We see the Kerala High Court’s judgement as a positive move for the online gaming sector.”

It is hereby declared that Ext.P6 notification is arbitrary, illegal and in violation of Articles 14 and 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India, since the notification has been issued in relation to a game which already stands exempted from the provisions of the Act under Section 14 of the Kerala Act and since the game does not come within the meaning of ‘gambling’ or ‘gaming’, providing a platform for playing the game, which is in the nature of business cannot be curtailed. I hold that Ext.P6 notification is in effect a prohibition of Online Rummy played for stakes and not a reasonable restriction under Article 19(6) of the Constitution of India. — Justice TR Ravi, Kerala High Court

In a similar statement, Dinker Vashisht, Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Games24x7 said, “The judgment by Honorable Kerala High Court is yet another addition to the jurisprudence that has consistently held that games of skill are not akin to gambling and protected under Article 19(1)(g) of the constitution. The decision comes shortly after the Madras High Court judgement, is a shot in the arm for the sunrise sector of gaming in India.”

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Real money gaming in India

Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh have announced laws that will outlaw real money gaming, whether they are games of chance or luck.

  • Sikkim‘s Online Gaming (Regulation) Act, 2008 is “the first Indian legislation to expressly permit and regulate online gaming,” the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology said in an affidavit it filed with the Delhi High Court. However, “the State Government restricted the offering of ‘online games and sports games’ to the physical premises of ‘gaming parlours’ through intranet gaming terminals within the geographical boundaries of the State by enacting the Sikkim Online Gaming (Regulation) Amendment Act, 2015.”
  • Nagaland enacted the Nagaland Prohibition of Gambling and Promotion and Regulation of Online Games of Skill Act in 2015. This law “seeks to have pan-India application by extending the applicability of the said Act to all those States where the games so being offered are legally permissible ‘games of skill,’” MEITY said.
  • Andhra Pradesh amended its gaming act to prohibit online betting and “online games for money or other stakes”. The ban is being challenged at the Andhra Pradesh High Court.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

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