Tough for states to ban online games
A spate of suicides by youngsters addicted to online gaming has brought the focus back on the difference between skill-based and chance-based games.
A spate of suicides by youngsters addicted to online gaming has brought the focus back on the difference between skill-based and chance-based games. While the latter are mostly banned, skill-based online games have continued to thrive in India, driving gamers into a web of debt and subsequently, suicide. Efforts by state governments to outlaw online gaming with stakes have not found success so far.
Early this year, a move by the Karnataka government was blocked by the High Court by striking down certain provisions of the Karnataka Police (Amendment) Act 2021. Karnataka’s argument that games of skill having a risk of players losing money should also be banned did not pass judicial muster. A similar move by the Tamil Nadu government was rejected by the Madras High Court, in August 2021. Though the government filed an appeal in the apex court within months, it is yet to come up for hearing.
In 2020, the Rajasthan High Court held that an online game that banks on the skill and knowledge of the participant cannot be banned. It was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court. In their separate verdicts, High Courts of Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, and Bombay have recognised fantasy sports as games of skill and a legitimate business activity protected under the Constitution of India.
Most arguments for allowing online games of skills refer to a five-decade-old order by the apex court. In 1967, it held in the State of Andhra Pradesh vs K Satyanarayana that rummy and bridge are not games entirely of chance, but of skill, unlike many other games in which cards are shuffled and distributed.
Recently, the TN government has made one more effort to end the menace of online gaming with stakes, by setting up a panel headed by Justice K Chandru.
It has recommended promulgating an ordinance to ban certain online games and regulate some others. The committee has also recommended that the government must insist on New Delhi enacting a national-level law under Article 252 of the Constitution. A ban may be the only way forward since it is impossible to regulate online companies, but this will surely lead to a barrage of legal challenges.