India high court rules ban on online card game unconstitutional
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India high court rules ban on online card game unconstitutional

The Kerala High Court ruled Monday that the Kerala Government’s notification banning online rummy played for stakes is unconstitutional.

The Kerala Gaming Act, 1960 deals with the prohibition and punishment of gambling in Kerala. While Section 14 exempts “any game of mere skill” from the provisions of the Act, Section 14A empowers the state government to exempt any game in which “the element of skill is more predominant than the element of chance.” Acting under Section 14A, the Kerala government exempted rummy, a card game, from the provisions of the gaming act in September 1976. However, in February 2021, the government issued another notification banning online rummy.

Online rummy companies challenged the notification contending that it violated their fundamental right to trade and was thus arbitrary and unreasonable. Relying upon the Supreme Court decisions K. Satyanarayana and K.R. Lakshmanan, the high court ruled that rummy qualifies as a “game of mere skill” under Section 14 and that no separate notification was required to exempt it. It also said that playing for stakes is not a criterion to determine whether a game is a game of skill. Moreover, the court held that the same reasoning applies to online rummy.

Justice T.R. Ravi concluded that the ban is arbitrary, illegal and in violation of Articles 14 and 19(1)(g) of the Indian Constitution as the notification dealt with a game already exempted from the Kerala Gaming Act. The bench further stated that businesses providing a platform for playing online rummy cannot be curtailed because rummy does not amount to “gambling.”

It’s noteworthy that in February 2021, a division bench of the Kerala High Court itself directed the Government of Kerala to bring online rummy under the gambling act. However, Justice T.R. Ravi opined that the order passed by the division bench was not in line with the precedents of the Supreme Court. In August 2021, the Madras High Court had also struck down a law passed by the Tamil Nadu government banning online gaming, including rummy.