14 Oct 2019

Kerala HC says online rummy for stakes legality has to be reviewed on case to case basis

A division bench of the Kerala High Court comprising of Justices AM Shaffique and N Anil Kumar on 11th October delivered their order on a bunch of review petitions filed by online rummy website Ace2Three, RummyCircle and Junglee Rummy, challenging the court’s January 2019 order holding rummy for stakes to be an offence of gambling.

The court in its order on the review petitions at the outset admitted that a 1976 notification under Section 14A of the Kerala Gaming Act, 1960, that exempted rummy from the ambit of gambling, subject to the condition that side-betting is not permitted on such games, was not brought to its attention by the counsels arguing the earlier matter.

The existence of the notification and the court’s lapse in ignoring the said notification was first reported by Glaws in June 2016 and reiterated in February 2019, after which the counsels for the online rummy companies brought it up before the court.

The court in its order also alluded to the Supreme Court’s order in State of Andhra Pradesh v. K. Satyanarayana held that it cannot be said that rummy is a game of chance and there is no skill involved in it.

The court however, also noted the observation of the apex court in the order, that if there is evidence of gambling in some other way or that the owners of the house is making a profit or gain from the game of rummy or any other game played for stakes, the offence may be brought home.

KK Ravindranath, Additional Advocate General of the state of Kerala in his submissions noted that although playing the game of rummy is exempted from the Kerala Gaming Act by the 1976 notification, the issue of online gaming/rummy was not under consideration before the court in the original petition.

He further stated that only playing rummy is exempted under the notification and rummy, if played for stakes would amount to ‘side betting’ and offences under the Kerala Gaming Act would be attracted.

The High Court in its order, did not provide any clear answer to the applicability of the Kerala Gaming Act and 1976 notification on online rummy played for stakes. While disposing of the petitions, it noted that the applicability of the notification to online rummy and meaning of the term side betting has to be decided on a case to case basis depending on the manner in which the games are conducted and stakes involved.

The court in its final observations noted: “There is no dispute about the fact that in view of the notification, playing rummy is excluded from the provisions of the Act and in the impugned judgment the Division Bench has also held that the element of skill is predominant than the element of chance. But the question is whether if rummy is played for stakes, will it amount to violation of the provisions of the Gaming Act or not.

We are of the view that this aspect of the matter has to be decided on a case to case basis. What is the manner in which the games are conducted and how it is being conducted through online methods and what are the stakes involved in the matter are all issues which may arise for consideration. If it is just playing rummy without any side betting, the notification protects the parties involved in it. But, in a case where rummy is played for stakes, the issue might be different which has to be dealt with on a case to case basis. Therefore, the application of notification SRO No.1045/1976 will have to be adjudged depending on a case to case basis.

In the result, we do not find any ground to review the judgment. Review petitions are dismissed.”

The Kerala High Court with its order in the review petition has skirted the issue of whether online rummy for stakes can be legally conducted within the state and has consequently created more confusion rather than providing much needed clarity.

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