The Madras High Court (HC) has struck down in its entirety a recent amendment brought by the state government to the Tamil Nadu Gaming Act, which imposed a ban on online games comprising online poker and online rummy with stakes.
The first bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy overturned the amendment made this year permitting a batch of PIL petitions from Junglee Games India Private Limited and others. The previous AIADMK government had enacted the law.
Part II of the TN Gaming & Police Laws (Amendment) Act, 2021, which banned betting or wagering in cyberspace as well as games of skill if played for a bet, wager, money or other stakes, was declared unconstitutional by the bench.
By imposing a wide-ranging complete ban, the least intrusive test was violated, and the ban had thereby fallen foul of Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution (right to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business), the bench said.
The legislation assailed has to be regarded as something done capriciously and irrationally. It was excessive and disproportionate, it said.
"This court, therefore, strikes down the amendment in its entirety as ultra vires the Constitution," the bench added.
It, however, granted liberty to the State to pass another legislation, without any lacunae. The bench added that nothing in this judgment would prevent the state government from introducing an appropriate legislation conforming to the Constitutional principles of propriety.
Earlier on July 26, when the court reserved its orders, Advocate General R Shanmugasundaram sought time to get instructions as to whether the new DMK government could amend the law, passed during the AIADMK regime in February this year, or promulgate an ordinance since the ban was imposed in public interest.
However, the court declined the request and said there was no scope for the court to await the government's decision after conclusion of arguments.
When the AG claimed that online games were susceptible to manipulation, the bench had quipped "you regulate it. You can't ban the games altogether".
Welcoming the ruling, Roland Landers, CEO, All India Gaming Federation, told PTI, "We welcome the order of the Madras High Court, which iterates that the court is not against online gaming and calls for the government to devise a regulatory framework to provide clarity to the sunrise online gaming industry with a view to encourage investments leading to technological advancements as well as generation of revenue and employment," he added.
He further said as the oldest online skill gaming industry body, the All India Gaming Federation has most of the stakeholders of the online gaming industry as its members.
"We at AIGF have been at the forefront of ensuring global best practices for its stakeholders through the self- regulation skill games charter that cover all aspects of the online gaming business, overseen by an advisory of experts. To reinforce its process, AIGF has also partnered with Arthur D Little (ADL) and looks forward to wholeheartedly supporting and offering its expertise and experience if required to the government in this endeavour," he added.
In 2018, the All India Gaming Federation released the Skill games charter, which is based on the four foundations of integrity, legality, global best practices and good governance.
The charter focuses entirely on player protection, responsible gaming, including guidelines for marketing and advertising, AIGF said in a press release.
Through the adoption of principles and the disciplinary process, the AIGF has built a self-regulatory community and facilitative ecosystem for the offer of online games of skill in a transparent and fair manner, with due regard for consumer and stakeholder interests, it claimed in the release.
(With inputs from PTI.)
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