India's state of Tamil Nadu has passed a bill to ban online games of chance or gambling. The bill was introduced by Tamil Nadu Law Minister Sevugan Regupathy in the state assembly on Wednesday. As per local media reports, the bill has been introduced for banning online gambling platforms, including rummy and poker. Moreover, other online games will also be regulated. The state is set to announce in the coming days when the ban will take effect.
On October 7, Governor RN Ravi promulgated an ordinance to prohibit online gambling and to regulate online gaming in the state. As of late, online gaming has gained a lot of traction in the country; however, the state believes this to be a 'serious problem." According to local media reports, compulsive gambling and suicides caused by gaming addiction are at the root of the latest ban.
Governor RN Ravi
According to a committee report, 99% of the emails from the public they received regarding online betting have mentioned recommendations for banning online games. The state believes that online gambling and unregulated games constitute a potent vice that could lead to aggressive behavior, reduced eyesight, and a decrease in productivity. It was also said that gaming addiction is now affecting public health, disturbing social order, and prejudices the maintenance of public order, as reported by the Deccan Herald.
A survey was conducted by the state government regarding the impact of online gaming on students. 74% of the teachers surveyed said that the focus of students is impacted by online gaming. Meanwhile, 67% said they noticed more students now have eye defects.
However, there are already groups that have expressed the need to challenge the ordinance from the state. Jay Sayta, a technology and gaming lawyer, spoke about how this ordinance categorizes online rummy and poker under games of chance. Sayta also said that the state isn't clear on defining whether online fantasy games are also considered games of chance.
"Such a regulation goes against years of established court regulations, which have segregated games of chance and skill. The law is trying to establish a new regulation of sorts where the two are not mutually exclusive," he said, as reported by the above-mentioned media. Sayta believes that the ordinance will be challenged in court as early as the week after the state’s announcement.
This isn't the first time that Tamil Nadu placed a ban on online gaming. Last year, the Tamil Nadu Gaming and Police Laws had an amendment concerning the ban on online gaming in the state. This was imposed on February 2021, however, months later, in August of the same year, the Madras High Court struck down the amendment because they found it unconstitutional.
"Since 1968, the Supreme Court has made it clear that rummy is a game of skill and not a game of chances. Therefore, online rummy cannot be banned. This court, therefore, strikes down the amendment in its entirety as ultra vires the Constitution," the Bench explained at the time. However, at the time, the court explained that the state could still come up with constitutional law or amendment that could ban certain online gaming activities.
Madras High Court
Of the latest ban, Shoubhik Dasgupta, a partner at law firm Pioneer Legal, commented: "It is the same attempt from the government in a different guise, but the setting up of a regulatory committee will likely see them take a case-wise approach to regulate different games." "For instance, slight variations to rules of various rummy games could push them towards being defined either as a game of skill, or chance, under the definition of this ordinance," Dasgupta added.
For his part, Roland Landers, the CEO of the All India Gaming Federation, stated: "The ordinance will result in a ban on most online games of skill, including rummy and poker. What this ordinance does in effect is to treat games of skill as gambling and games of chance. This is disappointing as it disregards six decades of established legal jurisprudence and also the recent judgment of the Madras High Court, which struck down a similar law." The move could potentially push more people towards illegal offshore gambling sites, many experts believe.
In March, the Tamil Nadu government stated that they were committed to banning these online platforms, and asserted that they have been making efforts to invoke the laws that serve the said purposes. Then in early September, Tamil Nadu's cabinet approved the ordinance to ban online gambling.
The Tamil Nadu government has made two attempts to pass legislation outlawing online gambling in the region, and, according to that legislation, no supplier of online games can offer online gambling services, permit the gaming of any online gambling that would require the use of cash or other risks, or permit the gaming of any online game that violates the rules.