KOCHI: With the Kerala High Court lifting the ban imposed by the state government on online rummy two weeks ago, observing that it is a game of skill, those who are addicted to the game get legal protection. However, the hazards still exist as the game is played for money which is equivalent to gambling.
The High Court quashed the notification issued earlier this year by the state government banning online rummy under the Kerala Gaming Act, 1960. As per the Act, betting and gambling involving money are prohibited.
The state government termed it as “illegal” following a spate of suicides reported in the recent times caused by mounting debt incurred due to online gambling. According to cyber police, there are still many complaints about money being lost from bank accounts due to the addiction to the game.
“Though we have not received any specific complaint against online rummy, some parents have complained that money was drained from their bank accounts as a result of their sons playing online rummy. The youngsters use their parents’ bank accounts for playing it. The cyber police do not have a system to monitor online rummy games. So it is difficult to trace and differentiate a fraudster and a gamer,” said T Shyam Lal, DySP, Cybercrime police station, Thiruvananthapuram.
“As per the Gambling Act, only the games that come under ‘game of chance’ should be punished. But a game of skill cannot be punished. However, If hazards are reported, then the Legislature must enact a law making online rummy an offence as it is not an offence under the existing Act,” said criminologist James Vadakumcherry.
Earlier this year, a 29-year-old named Vineeth from Thiruvananthapuram died by suicide after after losing Rs 21 lakh in online rummy. A contract employee of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), he began playing the game during the Covid lockdown in March last year. He had reportedly taken loans from many private banks to play the game.
People from various sections of society have lost their money in online gambling. It was his addiction to online gambling that forced Bijulal, an accountant in Vanchiyoor treasury, to swindle Rs 2.7 crore from the treasury. The most popular online apps are Rummyculture, Rummy Circle, Jungle Rummy, Rummy Guru, Ace Rummy, Rummy Passion and Silkrummy. There are also commercials starring movie and cricket stars promoting the game.
The game is played using the 13 cards available in the app. A player might win the game and double the amount when he plays using Rs 100 or Rs 500. However, when the player plays by depositing more money in e-wallets, the app will entertain them. The player will eventually find that his wallet has gone empty. The money will be given initially as a bonus to motivate the player to continue playing the game. The companies claim that 30 million people play rummy at a time.
In states like Assam, Telangana, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, online gambling games are completely banned. The ban in Tamil Nadu was also lifted recently. While most players treat it as just a game, there is a fine line between it being an addiction and later playing it with a vengeance. Seasoned players, however, have a word of caution. “Watch out for fake players. They can be identified as those being online for 24 hours or if they are seen at more than two or three tables. Also, algorithm-based and genuine sites have integrated systems that will restrict deposits,” said one such player who did not want to be named.
However, the Online Rummy Federation (TORF) welcomed the High Court verdict. “The Kerala High Court’s is forward looking, closely following the positive decision taken by the Madras High Court last month. Both judgments clearly establish that online rummy is a game of skill and is protected under Article 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution,” an official statement from TORF said.
“We sincerely hope that this will set the tone to establish a robust regulatory framework for the online skill-based gaming sector. TORF would be keen to collaborate and support the Government of Kerala in developing a comprehensive regulation that will address all issues of the state, citizens and the sector. Online rummy continues to be enjoyed as a form of entertainment by a number of Indians across the country. Over the decades, several Supreme Court judgments have held rummy to be a game of skill and protected under Article 19(1)(g) of the Indian Constitution,” it added.
According to Deepak Gullapalli, founder and CEO of Head Digital Works said, court quashing the state government’s ban comes as a vindication of their stand that rummy is not a game of chance, instead, it’s a game skill. “We hope that these judgments will put to rest the confusion reigning all around regarding online games, especially rummy. Online gaming is the new-age way of playing games, and it should be viewed in that light, “ Deepak said in a statement.
How the game works
Online rummy is played using 13 cards available in the app. Player can initially play with K100 or K500. If one starts using e-wallets, the game will entertain them more. When the wallet goes empty the initially, the app will give the money as a bonus to motivate the player. Companies claim that 30 million people play rummy at a time.
The losing game
A 29-year-old named Vineeth from Thiruvananthapuram died by suicide after losing K21 lakh in online rummy. Bijulal, an accountant in Vanchiyoor treasury, swindled K2.7 crore from the treasury due to his addiction to gambling
While High Court has lifted state government’s ban on online rummy terming it as a game of skill, the fact that it involves money and that players, especially youngsters, get addicted to it makes it dangerous. Better regulation could address the concerns raised by parents who have lost their children and money