States are running out of options in their efforts to ban online rummy. Jurisprudence has consistently held that rummy is a game of skill, and games of skill are legitimate business activities protected by the Constitution. However, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have persistently tried to ban online rummy through state laws. The laws in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala were struck down. Tamil Nadu adopted another law to ban online rummy. This and the laws in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have been challenged before the respective high courts.
Following a petition filed by online gaming platforms, the AP High Court constituted a committee to examine how online rummy really works, and the differences between online and physical rummy. Comprising members of the judiciary, independent technical and non-technical members, police, and gaming platforms, it is tasked with answering a key question: Is online rummy a game of chance due to differences in the way it is played?
What’s different online?
The high courts in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have held that a game of skill does not become a game of chance merely by being played online. The AP High Court felt that such decisions unduly relied on pleadings, without a detailed analysis of online rummy gaming infrastructure.
The state claims that online rummy dealers can manipulate the fall of cards and have bots disguised as normal players. This is not possible in physical rummy, as players are present in the same room and can observe each other and the dealer. The state also claims that, unlike in online rummy, players in physical rummy train themselves for the vagaries of the game and learn from observing other players. Further, the games impose time limits for discarding cards. If the time limit expires due to a faulty internet connection or loss of electricity, the last card picked up is discarded. This is claimed to reduce the skill involved.
These problems could be solved by improving online gaming infrastructure. Time limits are merely rules of the game, and likely applied in physical rummy, too.
The state also raises issues that bear no relevance to skill or chance. It is claimed that the platforms have no way of detecting whether a player is a minor; that the games can be played 24x7, which is undesirable; that redeeming the winnings can take 24 hours; and there is no option for resolving grievances as players do not know each other or have access to the dealer.
The petitioners, who operate online rummy platforms, responded that their gaming infrastructure is fair, dealing is randomised, manipulation is prevented through security measures, identity and age are verified, and so on. All players appear to be treated equally and the rules of the game are adapted to the online medium.
Way forward, the committee should examine the claims of the gaming platforms. If they are found true, it would be difficult to conclude that online rummy is a game of chance. The mere potential for manipulation or security failures cannot lead to banning an industry. Should cricket be banned because some matches were fixed? Not really.
Learnings from the committee should be used to improve the operation of online rummy. The focus should be on eliminating manipulation and unfair practices and rules.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has extended the central rules for IT intermediaries to online gaming platforms.
The rules are meant to protect users from harm, improve compliance and transparency, ensure user verification, and enable grievance redressal. The states should build on these rules. They should address real concerns and avoid broadstroke bans, which have consistently failed.
This update has been contributed by Armaan Patkar (Partner) and was first published by The Hindu Businessline.
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