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Madras High Court rules Tamil Nadu gambling ban cannot apply to rummy, poker

This comes in response to a legal challenge to the Tamil Nadu government-enacted ban on online ‘gambling’ (or games of chance) earlier this year, which also outlawed games typically held to not involve gambling components such as poker and rummy.

The Madras High Court on November 9 upheld the validity of Tamil Nadu’s Prohibition of Online Gambling and Regulation of Online Games Act, 2022, but, in a significant setback for the state government, ruled that the ban will be restricted only to games of chance, not games like rummy and poker, LiveLaw reported.

The challenge came after the Tamil Nadu government enacted its ban on online ‘gambling’ (or games of chance) earlier this year, which also outlawed games typically held to not involve gambling components such as poker and rummy. The move came after a spate of suicides in the state, allegedly linked to online gambling-related financial losses.

Notably, this is the second time that the Tamil Nadu government has tried to ban games like rummy and poker—with the first law being struck down by the Madras High Court in 2021, a decision that has now been challenged by the state government at the Supreme Court.

Nevertheless, after the second law (the one that the Madras HC ruled on today) came into effect this April, real money skill gaming companies almost immediately challenged the ban before the Madras High Court. While questioning its constitutionality, the companies added that states only have the power to regulate gambling, and not games of skill. In its counter-affidavit, the Tamil Nadu government argued that it was well within its rights to enact the ban, adding that the ban legitimately infringes on skill gaming companies’ business rights in the public interest.

Outside of this industry-led challenge, experts we spoke to also raised several concerns with Tamil Nadu’s law when first released. They suggested that the law defies judicial precedents on whether states can regulate skill games, while also remaining ambiguous over how exactly authorities will distinguish gambling games from non-gambling games.

Keeping up with Tamil Nadu’s gambling ban: Our guide comprehensively covers Tamil Nadu’s attempts at regulating online gambling. Here are some of our top reads:

  • February 2021: A law banning wagering and betting in “cyberspace” is gazetted. [PDF]
  • August 2021: The Madras High Court strikes down the gambling ban on constitutional grounds. [Read]
  • December 2021: The Tamil Nadu government files a Supreme Court challenge against the Madras High Court’s decision to strike down the gambling law. [Read]
  • June 2022: Amidst rising gambling-related suicides in the state, Tamil Nadu’s DMK government led by Chief Minister M.K. Stalin announces the formation of an expert committee to once again draft an emergency law on online gambling. [Read]
    • We document how a lack of clear online gambling and gaming laws harms everyday Indians, whether in Tamil Nadu or otherwise. [Read]
  • September 2022: Tamil Nadu cabinet approves ordinance banning online gambling. [Read]
  • November 2022: The gambling ordinance expires in the absence of the Governor’s assent. [Read]
    • February 2023: As the Governor continues to withhold his assent, Tamil Nadu MPs claim in Parliament that over 40 youths have died in Tamil Nadu during the stalemate. [Read]
  • March 2023: Tamil Nadu’s Governor finally returns the ordinance to the state government, citing multiple concerns, including the state’s “legislative competence” to draft it. [Read]
  • April 2023: After the Tamil Nadu Assembly passes the bill for the second time, Governor R.N. Ravi assents to it. The move came after a motion was passed against him the same day. [Read]
  • April 2023: The law comes into effect from April 21st—skill-based gaming companies begin restricting their poker and rummy games in the state. [Read]
  • April 2023: Now that the law is notified, the All India Gaming Federation and three gaming companies file a constitutional challenge against the ban at the Madras HC. [Read]
    • June 2023: In its counter-affidavit, the Tamil Nadu government argues that it has the legislative competence to ban online ‘gambling’. [Read]

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I'm interested in stories that explore how countries use the law to govern technology—and what this tells us about how they perceive tech and its impacts on society. To chat, for feedback, or to leave a tip: aarathi@medianama.com

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