A single judge bench of the Kerala HC noted that the notification was arbitrary and violative of the right to trade and commerce guaranteed under the constitution
After Madras HC, it’s Kerala’s turn. Kerala High Court on Monday struck down the amendment to a government notification issued under Section 14A of the Kerala Gaming Act, 1960 aiming to ban online rummy in the state. The petition in Kerala HC was filed by four gaming companies — Junglee Games India Pvt. Ltd, Play Games 24×7 Pvt. Ltd, Head Digital Works Pvt. Ltd, and Gameskraft Technologies Pvt. Ltd claimed that the Supreme Court and various high courts had already declared online rummy as a game of skill, which is legal in India. A single judge bench of the Kerala HC Justice TR Ravi noted that the notification was arbitrary and violative of the right to trade and commerce guaranteed under Article 19(1)(g) of the constitution. “Online Rummy played either with stakes or without stakes remains to be a ‘game of skill’,” the HC declared.
For Abhishek Malhotra, managing partner, TMT Law Practice, the verdict has once again confirmed the time tested distinction between games of skill and games of chance. “The judgement further strengthens the jurisprudence on the issue that the relevant entry of betting and gambling in List II of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution May not confer power upon the State Legislature to enact a law on betting vis-a-vis games of skill,” he added. According to Roland Landers, CEO, AIGF, the Kerala HC verdict will give a major fillip to the industry by encouraging investments leading to technological advancements as well as generation of revenue and employment
To give perspective, on 23 February, 2021, the Kerala government issued a notification stating that online rummy does not enjoy exemption from the general prohibition of gaming and gambling granted under Section 14A of the Kerala Gaming Act, 1960 when played for stakes. Assam, Orissa and Telangana were the first states to ban online games and following the footsteps, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka passed a blanket ban on online “betting” games this year. However, on August 3, Madras High Court quashed the Tamil Nadu Gaming and Police Laws (Amendment) Act of 2021 banning online gaming and called it “excessive and arbitrary”. Despite Madras HC, Karnataka HC and the Supreme Court declaring online gaming as a game of skill, Karnataka government on 21 September, 2021 passed a bill to ban online gambling or betting in the state with maximum imprisonment of three years and penalty up to Rs one lakh. “The judgment by Honorable Kerala High Court is yet another addition to the jurisprudence that has consistently held that games of skill are not akin to gambling and protected under Article 19(1)(g) of the constitution. The decision comes shortly after the Madras High Court judgement, and is a shot in the arm for the sunrise sector of gaming in India,” Dinker Vashisht, vice president, corporate affairs, Games24x7, said.
Adding Kerala High Court to the ever-growing list of High Courts declaring online games such as Rummy and Poker as skill-based games, one questions the futility of the government’s need to pass a bill banning the sector deemed legal in the eyes of the Supreme Court only for the bill to be quashed when challenged in Court.