The Kerala High Court on Thursday, refused to interfere with a Kerala Government Notification 'banning online playing of rummy when played for stakes'.
Upon a challenge made by four gaming companies, a Single Bench of Justice N Nagaresh expressed his disinclination to interfere with the notification at this juncture an d instead listed the petition after the vacation. However, upon a submission made by Advocate Santosh Mathew appearing for one of the petitioners that any coercive action taken by police would cause irreparable damage to the company, the court allowed the petitioner to approach the court even during vacation if coercive steps including criminal action was resorted against them when the cases were pending disposal.
The three companies, Play Games 24x7, Junglee Games, Head Digital Works and Gameskraft, moved the Court challenging the Kerala Government's decision to ban 'online rummy when played for stakes' in exercise of its powers under Section 14A of the Kerala Gaming Act, 1960. It is contended that the Notification is ultra vires the Kerala Gaming Act, 1960 as it seeks to regulate the online space despite the legislation's regulation of physical premises only. The petitioners also contend, among other grounds, that the Notification effectively seeks to ban businesses offering the game of Online Rummy, which is a business protected under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.
The said notification was made pursuant to litigation seeking the ban of online gaming.
At the hearing today, Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for online rummy companies submitted that banning the game by amendment to notification under Section 14A of Kerala Gaming Act, 1960 is bad in law as the notification exempts physical rummy but not online rummy.
He averred that the said notification is violative of Articles 14 and 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.
Proceeding to cite cases of Supreme Court including State of Andhra Pradesh v. K Satyanarayan and the Kerala Gaming Act on rummy being a game of skill, he contended that it was an accepted proposition that the prohibition extended to games of chance and not games of skill.
Senior Advocate S Sreekumar, Senior Advocate Joseph Kodianthara who also appeared for the petitioner-companies presented similar arguments.
Appearing for Gameskraft, Advocate Santhosh Mathew argued that removal of exemption for online rummy cannot be done through an executive notification but had to be done through an amendment to the Act itself. Illustrating his submission with examples of specific amendments to the Kerala Gaming Act, 1960 to bring online lottery within its fold, he averred that a similar amendment to the legislation need to be brought in case online gaming and rummy is to be prohibited.
Representing the State, State Attorney KV Sohan, asserted that playing online rummy for stakes is covered by 2019 Division Bench judgment of the High Court in Play Games 24x7 Pvt. Ltd & Ors. v. Ramachandran K. & Ors. Accordingly, he drew the Court's attention to the observations in the said order that playing rummy for stakes can fall within the mischief of the Kerala Gaming Act, 1960.
He also argued that other states such as Tamil Nadu also brought in similar measures to ban online rummy and that no stay or interim relief on the same was by other High Courts as well. The State Attorney proceeded to inform the Court that there were instance of suicide in various states related to the playing of online rummy which compelled the state to bring measures to ban the same.
In light of these, Justice Nagaresh expressed disinclination to stay the case and directed the respondents to complete their pleadings by the next date of hearing, that is, May 20, 2021.