Kochi: Online rummy, played with or without stakes, "is a game of skill", the Kerala High Court held on Monday while setting aside a state government notification prohibiting online playing of the game for money.
The ruling, which comes as a relief for many companies engaged in the business of developing and offering online games of skill, was pronounced by Justice T R Ravi who said that the Kerala government's February 23 notification was " arbitrary, illegal and violative of the fundamental rights" of such companies.
The high court said that the Supreme Court has already held that rummy was "a game of mere skill" and "playing for stakes or playing not for stakes can never be a criterion to find out whether a game is a game of skill".
Therefore, for the same reasons that rummy was held to be a game of skill, online rummy was also a game of skill, the high court said.
"Online rummy played either with stakes or without stakes remains to be a 'game of skill'," it said and added that even without a notification the game will come within the purview of the Kerala Gaming Act and will enjoy the exemptions provided under it for games of skill.
"...and since the game does not come within the meaning of 'gambling' or 'gaming', providing a platform for playing the game, which is in the nature of business, cannot be curtailed," the high court said.
It further said that the state government notification was a prohibition on playing of online rummy for stakes and was "not a reasonable restriction" under the Constitution.
"In the result, the notification is declared as arbitrary, illegal and violative of the fundamental rights guaranteed to the petitioners under Articles 14 and 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India and hence not enforceable," the high court said..
The order came on a batch of petitions moved by various companies, engaged in the business of developing and offering online games of skill in India, challenging the notification.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for one of the petitioner companies, argued before the high court that the notification was without any rationale and arbitrary as offline rummy played for stakes was valid, but online rummy when played for stakes was being prohibited.
The high court's decision was welcomed by the online skill gaming industry.
Former Supreme Court judge Justice Vikramjit Sen, who is a Member of the Skill Games Council, in a statement said, "In the last few years, the interest in online skill gaming has been growing exponentially in the country."
"The Supreme Court and multiple high courts have reiterated numerous times that online games of skill are protected under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. We see the Kerala High Court's judgement as a positive move for the online gaming sector."
Dinker Vashisht, Corporate Affairs Vice President of Games24x7, in a statement welcomed the verdict and said, "The judgement by Kerala High Court is yet another addition to the jurisprudence that has consistently held that games of skill are not akin to gambling and protected under Article 19(1)(g) of the constitution."
"The decision comes shortly after the Madras High Court judgement, is a shot in the arm for the sunrise sector of gaming in India."
Roland Landers, CEO of the All India Gaming Federation, also welcomed the verdict and said that it was reassuring for this sunrise sector in India.
"We believe that this development will give a major fillip to the industry by encouraging investments leading to technological advancements as well as generation of revenue and employment," he said in a statement. PTI