Gambling cannot be considered a trade or business. Therefore, private companies involved in offering online rummy with stakes cannot seek protection under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution which guarantees the right to carry on any occupation, trade or business, the State government contended before the Madras High Court.
In a counter affidavit filed before first Division Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy through Advocate General Vijay Narayan, the government said that rummy might be a game of skill and not of chance. Yet, it could be banned if betting or wagering was involved while playing such a game.
The counter affidavit was filed in response to a batch of writ petitions filed by online game portals based in Haryana and other parts of the country. The petitioner companies had challenged the Constitutional validity of an Ordinance promulgated by the Tamil Nadu government in November 2020 for banning all online games played with stakes on the cyberspace.
No interim relief
When senior counsel P.S. Raman, representing one of the game portals, sought time to file a rejoinder to the government’s counter affidavit, the Bench accepted his request and adjourned the hearing to February 10. However, it turned down a request made by senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing another firm, to grant interim relief.
The counter affidavit, filed on behalf of the Chief Secretary as well as the Home Secretary, stated that seven individuals had committed suicide in the State in the last five years after losing money in online gambling. Further, four more deaths and 10 other criminal offences had been reported in connection with online gambling, it added.
A grocer in Thoothukudi district had obtained ₹1.25 lakh from his wife to run the shop but ended up losing all the money in online gambling. When his wife refused to part with more money, he attempted to murder their kids aged four and three by poisoning them and also attempted suicide. Sathankulam police had booked a case in this regard, the government said.
“It has also come to light that many children are playing online games with stakes. They are using their parents’ credit cards / debit cards. Many parents have lost their hard-earned money in this manner. No complaint can be made in this regard since children play the games by giving their consent to rules framed by online game companies,” the counter read.
It was to prevent such incidents, the government had promulgated the Tamil Nadu Gaming and Police Laws (Amendment) Ordinance of 2020 for banning online games played with stakes by amending the relevant provisions of Tamil Nadu Gaming Act of 1930, Chennai City Police Act of 1888 and Tamil Nadu District Police Act of 1859, the government said.
The State also pointed out that Justice B. Pugalendhi of the High Court had on July 24, 2020 pointed out that the Telangana Gaming (Amendment) Act of 2017 prohibited all forms of gaming, being games of skill or games of chance, for money. The Government of Telangana had also moved a Bill in its Assembly to detain “gaming offenders” under the Goondas Act.
“When the menace of lottery was at its peak sucking the blood and life of several families, the Government of Tamil Nadu had taken a rigid stand in 2003 and banned the sale of all kinds of lotteries, including those sold online, within the territory of the State, by issuing a Government Order (G.O.) on January 8, 2003.
“Though the G.O. was challenged before the courts of law, it still holds the field. By virtue of this order, the Government has prevented suicidal deaths of those who had not only lost their hard-earned money but also their family peace and reputation,” Justice Pugalendhi had said and suggested a suitable legislation to regulate online games too.
Therefore, the present Ordinance had been promulgated in accordance with the suggestion made by the court, the government said.