A bench of the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court however said there was nothing to prevent the State from enacting a new law to regulate these games
The Madras High Court on Tuesday struck down the Tamil Nadu Gaming and Police Laws (Amendment) Act of 2021, which bans playing of games such as rummy and poker on cyberspace with stakes.
Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy held that a blanket ban on games of skill falls foul of Article 19 (1)(g) (right to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business) of the Constitution.
The Bench said the legislation imposing a wide-ranging ban must be regarded as excessive and disproportionate to the object sought to be achieved. It, however, made it clear that the State legislature would be at liberty to enact a new legislation for regulating online games.
The verdict was delivered while allowing a batch of writ petitions filed by a host of private companies offering online games. They were represented by senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi, A.K. Ganguli, Mohan Parasaran, C. Aryama Sundaram and P.S. Raman before the Bench.
While reserving the verdict in the batch of cases on July 26, the judges had said the law appeared to have been drafted very poorly. “I think, better, we throw this out. You get a more intelligible legislation passed,” the Chief Justice told Advocate General R. Shunmugasundaram after wondering how the State could impose a blanket ban even on games of skill such as rummy.
When the A-G sought time to get instructions as to whether the incumbent government intended to amend the law, passed during the AIADMK regime in February this year, or promulgate an ordinance since the ban was imposed in public interest, the Bench said there was no scope for the court to await the government’s decision after conclusion of arguments.
The judges said the term ‘gambling’ had been interpreted by the Supreme Court to mean only games of chance. The top court had also held that rummy was purely a game of skill. “When it’s a game of skill, Article 19 (1)(g) (right to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business) comes in to play,” the CJ said.
In reply, the A-G contended that none of the Supreme Court rulings relied upon by the petitioners’ counsel had held that rummy would continue to be a game of skill even when it gets played online. To this, Chief Justice Banerjee said, games such as football, which require physical energy, would certainly be different on the field and online. However, he said, there would be hardly any difference in playing mind games that require mental skills either in the physical form or in cyberspace.
Nevertheless, the A-G stood his ground and claimed that online games were susceptible to manipulation. “Manipulation is possible on cyberspace,” he argued. Reacting to it, the CJ had said: “Then, you regulate it. You can’t ban the games altogether.”