Madras High Court upturns ban on online gaming

The TN Gaming Act, banned betting or wagering in cyberspace and also games of skill if played for a wager, bet, money or other stakes. (Photo source: IE)

By Shivani Jha

“I think it is better we throw it out, you better get a more intelligible legislation,” Chief Justice Banerjee observed orally in the Madras HC while pronouncing the judgement that declared Part II of the Tamil Nadu Gaming & Police Laws (Amendment) Act, 2021 ( “TN Gaming Act”) unconstitutional. The TN Gaming Act, banned betting or wagering in cyberspace and also games of skill if played for a wager, bet, money or other stakes.

The TN Gaming Act was introduced in the Legislative Assembly of the State of Tamil Nadu in February 2021 and was challenged in the High Court of Madras in Junglee Games India Private Limited and Anr v. State of Tamil Nadu.

Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy, in initial proceeds on July 23, raised certain doubts on the very foundation and poor drafting of the TN Gaming Act by expressing : “This Act appears not to take cognisance of a body of jurisprudence that had preceded on the subject. It appears to be jumbled and confused,”

The bench further stated that “There is no doubt children and young adults these days were addicted to their phones and laptops and their world appears to revolve around these gadgets. But the courts cannot pass any such ban order at present.”

“Policy matters like these must be looked into by the appropriate governments in the state or the Centre,” the court further stated.

The bench correctly observed that the state government and administration had not conducted any study on the possible ill effects and neither did they refer to empirical data to make such a decision. It also appeared that no exhaustive discussion had taken place in the Assembly before the law was passed in February this year.

Chief Justice Banerjee, through his brilliant piece of commentary, put forth the example of Egyptian actor Omar Sharif. He made a fortune by exploiting his craft of contract bridge. The Chief Justice explained that putting a blanket ban on playing games would prevent anyone who possesses skills like Sharif from displaying their talents, thus being violative of their rights.

The Court also did not seem convinced by arguments around how gaming has led to suicides and the Chief Justice slammed the Advocate General by saying, “Just because one mad man had indulged in such a thing, does not mean you can impose a blanket ban on all games of skill.”

The legislation assailed has to be regarded as something done capriciously, irrationally and which was excessive and disproportionate.

The Court concluded that the amendment is disproportionate to the object it sets out and that no part of it can be saved. The Court, therefore, struck down the amendment in its entirety as ultra vires the Constitution.

(The author is a tech policy researcher and legal head at the Esports Players Welfare Association ( EPWA). Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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