India: Madras High Court declares rummy and poker as games of skill, revokes former ban

The Madras High Court has declined the plea to declare the entire Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Online Gambling and Regulation of Online Games Act, 2022, as unconstitutional and declared that rummy and poker are considered ‘games of skill.’

The court has overturned the ‘Schedule of the Act’, which incorporated rummy and Poker as games of chance in the list of banned games. The legislation was initially introduced by the Tamil Nadu government in response to a series of suicides allegedly linked to financial losses in online gambling.

On Thursday, the first bench, comprising Chief Justice S V Gangapurwala and Justice P D Audikesavalu, partly allowed the writ petitions filed by All India Gaming Federation and other online gaming companies, which challenged the Act.

News agency Press Trust of India (PTI) cited the bench, which said: “We affirm that the impugned Act, as a whole, does not need to be held ultra vires. It is held that the State is competent the legislate to the extent of prohibiting online gambling, specifically games of chance, at the same time, it has got the authority to regulate online games of skill.”

The bench further noted that the interpretation of ‘online gambling’ as per Section 2(i) of the challenged act should be limited to ‘games of chance’ and should exclude games that involve skill. The bench stated that “the games of rummy and poker are games of cards but are games of skill.”

Enacted in April 2022, the TN Prohibition of Online Gaming and Regulation of Online Games Act criminalized engaging in or facilitating games such as poker or rummy for real money.

Gaming companies contended that the Tamil Nadu government’s authority extends only to the regulation of online games, not their outright prohibition. They further asserted that there is a lack of data substantiating claims of addiction.

Bots, underage access, time-limit and other apprehensions

The bench further noted that “the apprehension expressed by the state that bots may be used or the dealer (software) would know the cards were without any substantive material. In view thereof, the Schedule under Section 23, incorporating rummy and poker as games of chance, was set aside.”

If the state comes across the usage of bots or any dubious methods in the play of games of rummy and poker, it can take action, the bench noted. 

Apprehension was raised by the Senior Counsel for the State that there would be no methodology to verify the age of the person playing. The petitioners responded to it by suggesting that a person, before they enrolled to play, were required to submit their Aadhaar Card, photograph and other precautionary measures were taken to confirm that the person playing was 18 years old or more.

Another concern of the state government was that the games were played 24 hours, thereby endangering the public and domestic health, and the state had to take care of the public health of its citizens.

The bench said that the state certainly has the power to regulate online games of skill. It can control and regulate the games of skill, can set the time limit, and can also regulate the age restriction and other aspects, the bench added.

The bench said another apprehension raised by the State was of public order. Public order in the State List would imply activities that would jeopardize and affect the public at large. There was no evidence in the instant case that public order was disturbed, the bench added.