Online Gaming Laws In India: Recent Judgement of Madras High Court

This is an update to our previous post, wherein we covered a detailed analysis on the legislations and landmark judgements that regulate gambling and other allied activities across India and how certain States in India have enacted their own legislation to regulate gaming/ gambling activities. We also saw how many online games today face complications when they have to be tested additionally against the Prize Competitions Act, 1955 and also specifically check for prohibitions under each State. While the Public Gambling Act, 1867 is the only centrally recognized law related to gambling/ gaming activities in India, little or no steps have been taken to codify a regulatory framework governing the operation of modern/ online gaming and gaming-related businesses in India. Recently, an interesting stance has been taken by the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court in the case of D. Siluvai Venance vs. State (“Judgement”).

Madras High Court Judgement

The Judgement has stressed upon the need to have a proper regulatory framework to regulate modern/ online games in India that are luring unemployed youth to bet and lose all their money.

The case was initially involved in determining the legality and scope of “gambling” at a “public place” and running a “common gaming house” for commercialization purposes. The petitioners along with others were arrested for playing cards for stakes on a farmland and were charged for gambling on a public street under Section 12 of the Tamil Nadu Gaming Act, 1930. The petitioner contested that the game of card for stakes was being played on a private land owned by one of his friends. The petitioner further stated that he was not involved in the game and was just a mere spectator. The contention of the petitioner was supported by the Madras High Court which stated that a game of cards being played on private farmland did not constitute to be a gaming house. Subsequently, the charges against the petitioner were quashed by the High Court.

In support of the Judgement, the Court relied upon the precedent laid down in Raman Nair and others v. State[1], which stated that gaming is not an offence per se but is punishable only when it is carried on at a public place for commercialization purpose or in a common gaming house for profit. The Court further referred to the judgement in J. Raghunandhu v. Emperor[2] wherein it was held that a part of a private house which has access to a public street cannot be termed as a public place. This Judgement of the Madras High Court is the current case which has laid down an important foundation in determining which activities and tendencies will be termed as gambling at a public place.

Observations and Recommendations of the Court

During the pendency of the case, the High Court raised a query to the Assistant General of Police for seeking clarification as to how the police were permitting other forms of virtual and online gaming in the state of Tamil Nadu despite being very particular in prohibiting/ encouraging playing game of cards. The Assistant General of Police filed a status report throwing light upon the need for a regulatory framework to govern virtual and online gaming in India.

Given the increase in smartphones and internet penetration, India has become one of the fastest-growing markets for online gaming. The increase in the number of individual online gamers has created a huge need for having a tight compliance mechanism to tackle the growth and spread of illegal activities associated with online gaming. The High Court also suggested that the Tamil Nadu Government should bring out regulations/ policies, as framed by the States of Sikkim (i.e. Sikkim Online Gaming (Regulation) Act, 2008), Nagaland (i.e. Nagaland Prohibition of Gambling and Promotion and Regulation of Online Games of Skill Act, 2015) and Telangana (i.e. Telangana Gaming (Amendment) Ordinance, 2017).

In Sum

In India, the Public Gambling Act, 1867 and other State regulated laws have been enacted to govern gaming and gambling in India. While these laws deal with the physical gaming and operation of gaming/ gambling houses, no reliance has been placed on the concept of “virtual and online gaming”. The interest in online gaming has witnessed a sudden increase in recent times all over the world, including India and due to this many countries are adopting or updating their existing framework on gaming laws. The Judgement appears to be crucial, in light of these recent developments. It throws light on the importance of setting up a regulatory framework to regulate and deal with the online gaming sector in India. Such enforcements would also lead to investments in the gaming sector in India and also generate employment.

Archana Balasubramanian, Partner, Charulata, Associate (assistance from Amogh Taskar, Intern)

[1] 1990 (2) MWN Crime 195

[2] 1933 Mad WN 1422

2 thoughts on “Online Gaming Laws In India: Recent Judgement of Madras High Court

Add yours

  1. Yes, a suitable law should be there. The government must ensure the court on it. Playing Satta Matka online becomes the new habit for many now in India. The government cannot control over the internet. Thus people can participate the game despite ban. It’s high time for the judiciary to direct the government to clear its stance pan India—such law must be same all over the country.

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