Justice Chandru Committee urges ban on web-based card games, including online rummy, in Tamil Nadu

Panel recommended that affected states should approach the Union government to enact a central law to ban online card games.

ByShilpa Nair

Published Aug 13, 2022 | 9:00 AMUpdatedAug 15, 2022 | 3:04 PM

The Tamil Nadu government has appointed retired judge K Chandru to lead the committee. (Supplied)

The four-member committee — headed by retired Madras High Court judge K Chandru — that was constituted by the Tamil Nadu government to study the adverse impacts of games like online rummy in the state, has recommended that the state “bring in a legislation for a total ban on online card games, including the game of rummy, immediately”.

It did not recommend any regulatory regime to control the games, as the committee believed it might be “ineffective and would only bring bad reputation to the government”.

South First has learnt that the panel also recommended that the states, including Tamil Nadu, whose laws banning online rummy were negated by courts, approach the Union government under Article 252 to enact a Central law to ban online games.

It further said that advertisements related to online gaming should also be banned since they were the “prime cause for luring victims”.

The 71-page report of the committee was submitted to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin on 27 June.

The other members of the panel were Sankararaman, a technical expert from IIT Madras; Lakshmi Vijayakumar, a psychiatrist and founder of suicide prevention organisation SNEHA; and Chennai Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) Vinit Dev Wankhede.

Impact of online rummy in Tamil Nadu

The committee said 17 suicides have been reported in Tamil Nadu in the last three years on account of people losing money on games like online rummy.

The panel, however, could not collect data from police stations across the state regarding complaints of fraud, cheating, loss of money, etc., due to lack of time. It had been given two weeks by the state government to submit its report.

As far as the online rummy market was concerned, the report stated that the game’s penetration in Tamil Nadu was growing.

According to the committee, online platforms that hosted rummy and similar games reported a huge spike in the number of players during the Covid lockdown in March.

Total or partial lockdowns owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with cheap internet rates, made it easier for people to gamble online.

Ballpark estimates cited by the panel put the number of frequent users on these online platforms at 20,000-25,000 per month.

The committee further claimed that Junglee Games reported that 1-2 lakh users in Tamil Nadu were playing free rummy per month, and of these 10,000-20,000 were playing games involving money.

They bet anywhere between ₹200 and ₹500 per day on average, it said.

A Deloitte report referred to by the committee stated that India’s online gaming industry was pegged to expand at a compounded annual growth rate of 40 percent to $2.8 billion by 2022, up from $1.1 billion in 2019, and around 40 percent of it would come from rummy-like games.

Other aspects of online gambling

When the Tamil Nadu government constituted the committee to study the adverse impacts of online rummy, it also asked the panel to look into other aspects of it.

These included studying whether these online games really involve skill or mere tricks, examining the feasibility of curtailing the online payments modes being used for gambling, and studying the algorithms of online games to determine whether they could be tweaked to the benefit of the gaming companies.

On whether online games really involve skills, the committee was of the view that online games may not involve skill, but mostly tricks adopted to extract money from the players. The panel also provided a detailed explanation as to why it believed so.

Further, opining that it was possible to ban direct payments in an attempt to curtail online payment for these games, the panel cautioned that the portals may use proxy companies to accept payments, and that ways and means would have to be found to curb such surreptitious payments.

As for the algorithms, the committee noted that they were designed and continually tweaked by machine-learning algorithms to maximise the benefits for the companies promoting online games.

The report also dealt with the psychological aspects of the addictiveness to various online gambling games.

Government stand on the issue

When the committee was constituted by the DMK-led Tamil Nadu government on 10 June, an official statement said that an ordinance — based on the recommendations of the committee — would be promulgated to resolve the social problem.

“It will be a model legislation for other states as well,” read the government statement.

After the committee submitted its report, it was taken up for discussion in the Cabinet meeting chaired by Chief Minister MK Stalin.

On 7 August, the Tamil Nadu government invited inputs from all stakeholders — the public, parents, teachers, students, youths, psychologists, social activists, online gaming service providers, etc. — on the proposal of the committee to enact fresh legislation on online gambling games.

The stakeholders were given time till 12 August to give their inputs via email or personal representation.

Though the committee has recommended a “total ban”, sources said that the government was also looking at options to regulate these games. The government, which is keen on tackling the menace, wants to put up a strong case so that the new legislation withstands legal scrutiny.

This is because similar legislation enacted by the previous AIADMK government in February 2021 — the Tamil Nadu Gaming and Police Laws (Amendment) Act — banning online games involving betting in cyberspace was struck down in August last year by the Madras High Court, where it was challenged.

A petition challenging the Madras High Court order is pending before the Supreme Court.

Legal precedents

The Madras High Court in its order had stated that the complete prohibition on games of skill was unreasonable, excessive, and manifestly arbitrary, and thereby falls afoul of Article 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution.

It also pointed out that the state’s legislative competence to enact laws pertaining to “betting and gambling” under the Constitution was confined to games of chance.

However, the court, while striking down Part II of the amendment act, also noted that “nothing herein will prevent an appropriate legislation conforming to the Constitutional sense of propriety being brought in the field of betting and gambling by the state”.

A similar exercise undertaken by the Karnataka government also met the same fate as the Karnataka High Court in February 2022 struck down various provisions of the amendments made to the Karnataka Police Act of 1963 as ultra vires of the Constitution.