A handful of companies, PlayGames 24X7, Junglee Games, Head Digital Works and Gameskraft, last week moved the Kerala High Court challenging the state government’s ban on online rummy involving stakes. While the companies had sought interim relief seeking a stay on the notification, the court denied this and instead scheduled the next hearing for May 20. LiveLaw first reported the order.
PlayGames24X7 operates RummyCircle, Junglee Games operates Junglee Rummy, Head Digital Works operates rummy game A23, and Gameskraft runs RummyCulture.
In the hearing last week, the companies argue that the Kerala government’s ban, by exercising its powers under Section 14A of the Kerala Gaming Act, 1960, is ultra vires (beyond the scope of the law) as it tries to regulate the online space when the law only permits the government to regulate the physically played rummy.
Senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the companies, cited the Supreme Court judgment in K. Satyanarayana, in which it declared that rummy is “mainly and preponderantly” a game of skill and not of chance. Santosh Mathew, appearing for Gameskraft Technologies Pvt. Ltd., said that the removal of exemption for online rummy cannot be done via a government notification, and that an amendment to the law is necessary. The companies contended that since the notification effectively seeks to ban businesses offering the game of online rummy, which is a business protected under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.
State Attorney KV Sohan said that playing online rummy for stakes is covered by the Kerala High Court 2019 judgment in a case involving PlayGames24X7 Pvt. Ltd. in which it the court had observed that playing rummy for stakes can fall within mischief under the Kerala Gaming Act, 1960.
Sohan also argued that other states such as Tamil Nadu have brought in similar measures to ban online rummy and that no stay or interim relief was granted by other high courts. He reiterated that there have been instances of suicides in various states relating to online rummy, which spurred the state to bring protective measures.
In February, the Kerala government had outlawed online rummy for stakes, in response to the petition calling out the gray regulatory areas in online rummy. In a notification made dated February 23, the state government removed the existing exemption that left rummy out of the prohibited activities under the Kerala Gaming Act, 1960.
The Kerala Gaming Act outlaws all forms of betting/wagering, but exempts lotteries and games of mere skill. Section 14A of the Act empowers the state government to exempt a game of skill from all of any provisions of the law, if they are satisfied that the element of skill is predominant over the element of chance. ‘Rummy’ was exempted under this provision in 1976.
Ban came in response to petition citing suicides, celeb endorsements
“Government have now decided in public interest to exclude ‘online rummy when played for stakes’ from the exemption already granted to the game of Rummy and also to make suitable amendment to the said notification,” the Kerala Home Department said in the notification.
In February, the Kerala High Court had directed the state government to decide whether online gambling and betting fall under the purview of the Kerala Gaming Act, in response to a petition asking for regulation of online gaming, particularly rummy in the state.
Filed by one Pauly Vadakkan, a film director, the petition had pleaded the Kerala HC to declare online betting and gambling, particularly online rummy, unlawful and illegal. The plea also asked for direction to the Kerala state government to ban these online betting or gambling until an appropriate regulatory regime had been established and regulations are framed by the state government. The petitioner had also argued against endorsements of online gaming platforms by celebrities such as Virat Kohli and Aju Varghese, which he said encouraged unsuspecting people to sign up for the games.
- Kerala bans online rummy for stakes, amends state Gaming Act [read]
- Tamil Nadu bans online bets, rummy and poker; exempts games of skill [read]
- Andhra CM asks MEITY to ban online gaming sites [read]