The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court on Tuesday issued notice in two petitions seeking complete bans or directions against online gambling, including online rummy services. With increasing usage, online gambling, online rummy, and related services have faced a spate of challenges in the courts — these challenges are simply the latest. 

In the first petition, filed by a Mohammad Rizvi, the court issued notice to Virat Kohli, BCCI chief and former cricketer Saurav Ganguly, as well as to The Online Rummy Federation (TORF), an industry body for online rummy. In another petition filed by S. Muthukumar, the court issued notice to online rummy service PlayGames24x7, central and state government bodies, and added TORF as a respondent suo moto. 

Both cases were heard and orders passed by a bench of Justices B. Pugalendhi and N. Kirubakaran. Justice Pugalendhi has ruled over a petition against online gambling services in July, wherein he had insisted upon a separate legislation in Tamil Nadu to prohibit online gambling. He noted the loss of lives due to online gambling and games, and said that regulation of the games was necessary at par with Telangana, which has banned all real-money online gambling services in 2017 by amending the Telangana Gaming Act. He had raised concern over lack of regulations of games such as RummyPassion, Nazara, LeoVegas, Spartan Poker, Ace2Three, PokerDangal, Pocket52, My11Circle, Genesis Casino, etc. 

Muthukumar’s petition: court hopes for immediate action, legislation

Muthukumar had sought direction to the government to take action to ban online rummy offered by PlayGames24x7 and others being offered in Tamil Nadu. The court took judicial notice of the number of people who have committed suicide after losing money over online gambling. Further A. Kannan, Muthukumar’s lawyer, said that Assam, Odisha, and Andhra Pradesh have also enacted laws to ban or regulate online rummy and similar games.

In response, the court said it “hopes that appropriate, adequate and immediate measures including bringing a legislation to prohibit or regulate Online Gambling would be taken by the Government before the next hearing in order to ensure that no precious life hereinafter will be lost”. [emphasis ours] 

Sricharan Rengarajan, Additional Advocate General of Tamil Nadu (assisted by M. Muthugeethaiyan, special government pleader for the Tami Nadu government, Madurai DC, and Police Commissioner) said he would submit instructions that the government seriously consider the issue and report the steps taken in 10 days. 

KR Laxman took notice for the two bodies of the central government, Jaya Singh took notice for the TRAI, PS Raman, counsel for Sasidhar Sivakumar, took notice for Play Games 24×7 Pvt. Ltd. Raman also took notice for the newly added respondent TORF. 

Rizvi’s petition points to multiple suicides allegedly over online gambling services

Rizvi’s petition had also sought action against online games operating in Tamil Nadu, pointing to the harm caused to children and adults, including multiple suicide allegedly over losing money on such games. The court issued notice to Virat Kohli, BCCI chief and former cricketer Saurav Ganguly as well as to TORF, in a petition against online games operating in Tamil Nadu. A handful of actors and central and state governments were also issued notice. Bar and Bench first reported this. It is understood that the court said it wants to hear the matter in some depth. 

Apart from Kohli and Ganguly, the petition issued notice to actors Tamannaah Bhatia, Prakash Raj, Rana Daggubati, and Sudeep Sanjeev. The court has also issued notice to TRAI, the MEITY’s Secretary, I&B joint secretary, Home Secretary and IT Secretary of Tamil Nadu, and the DGP (presumably of Tamil Nadu). According to Bar and Bench, the court acknowledged that lives have been lost to online games and that Tamil Nadu does not have a law governing them. 

Razvi’s petition has called for a ban on online games, websites, and social networks, citing their misuse by and harm to young people, pointing towards lack of hobbies, poor academic performance, behavioral and mental changes, impact of eyesight, among other things. He cited the suicide of three children, as well as adults, who committed suicide allegedly for playing PUBG, Blue Whale Challenge, and online rummy. Gaming and gambling have only gotten more prevalent after lockdown, it added. Importantly, the petition raised concern around celebrities such as Virat Kohli and Sourav Ganguly and actors for promoting online games and gambling on TV ads, calling such promoting and endorsement “unethical” and “immoral”.

Filed via his lawyers K Neelamegam, N Thuja, and Devaraj Mahesh, Razi asked for direction the government respondents to act against TORF, the cricketers and celebrities, and “online groups and parties that are involved with cybercrime, sca, cyberbullying, violence, xenophobia, illegal data transport”. 

It has prayed that the respondents ensure that online games are safe for children, comply with the best international standards, regulations and practices and safeguard Indian youth from unwanted cybercrime and online games, cyberbullying, violence, and xenophobia. 

Both matters are now listed for November 19.