Madras High Court Lifts Ban on Online Rummy and Poker, Recognizes Them as Games of Skill

Experts, industry association welcome decision, say it upholds difference between games of skill and chance

In a landmark decision, the Madras High Court has distinguished between online games of skill and chance, upholding the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Online Gambling and Regulation of Online Games Act, 2022, but exempting rummy and poker from its prohibition due to their classification as “games of skill.”

The Division Bench, headed by Chief Justice Sanjay V Gangapurwala and Justice P D Audikesavalu, delivered this verdict after considering writ petitions filed by the All India Gaming Federation and various online gaming companies challenging the constitutional validity of the Act.

While the court rejected the plea to declare the entire Act as ultra vires the Constitution, it set aside the schedule of the Act, including rummy and poker. The court clarified that Section 2(l)(4) of the Act pertains to games of chance and does not apply to games of skill, namely rummy and poker.

The Act, passed last year, was based on recommendations from a committee led by retired Madras High Court judge Justice K Chandru. Petitioners contested the committee report, highlighting the absence of domain experts and the committee’s limited understanding of the functioning of online rummy, particularly the role of the Random Number Generator (RNG) Software.

Addressing concerns of potential misuse with bots, the court dismissed the state’s contention, stating that there is no evidence to support the claim that the dealer software possesses knowledge of all cards or can manipulate the dealt or unopened cards.

The court recognized the evolving landscape of digitization and entertainment, emphasizing that the transition to online gaming is a natural progression. It acknowledged that the same cognitive skills are engaged in online games of rummy and poker as in their offline counterparts.

Despite initial hurdles, including the Tamil Nadu Governor’s concerns and the similarity with a previously struck down Amendment Act of 2021, the court affirmed the state’s legislative competence to regulate online gambling. It also underscored the importance of responsible regulation, suggesting that the state may implement reasonable regulations, including time limits and age restrictions.

In conclusion, the court affirmed the status of rummy and poker as card games involving skill, removing any ambiguity about their categorization as games of chance. The ruling provides a balanced approach, allowing for state intervention in case of malpractices while recognizing the legitimacy of online games of skill.

Source: The Indian Express Economic Times

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