Hostility to online rummy in the southern Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala is threatening to boil over, amid opposition politician anger and as governments move to defy court rulings defending skill gaming with stakes.
Influential opposition figures in Tamil Nadu have demanded that the state government immediately introduce an ordinance banning online rummy, as reports of debt-linked suicide circulate in local media.
E. Palaniswami, the head of opposition party AIADMK and former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, accused officials of failing to defend the ban on online gaming with stakes that his government legislated in November 2020.
The Madras High Court threw out the ban last August, prompting current Chief Minister M.K. Stalin to promise legislation that would secure a ban, while filing an appeal to the Supreme Court of India.
Stalin formed a committee on June 10 to recommend a course of action against online gaming and the four-member panel led by a retired Madras High Court justice did so on June 27.
But three weeks of inaction since that report emerged has triggered Palaniswami’s accusation that Stalin’s ruling DMK party is profiting from the industry. The former leader said the AIADMK would organise mass protests against the “exploitation” of young people by online gaming companies.
A day earlier, national parliamentary upper house lawmaker Anbumani Ramadoss, a former health minister and current president of the Tamil Nadu-based PMK party, also attacked the government, citing the suicide of an allegedly gaming debt-wracked police officer.
The officer “is the second victim of online gambling in the last one week [and the] 26th fatality in [the] last 11 months”, Ramadoss said on his Twitter account on Saturday (July 16).
“How many more innocent lives is the Tamil Nadu government going to sacrifice to the family-ruining online gambling monster?”
“Online gambling will ruin Tamil Nadu,” he said, warning that hundreds of thousands of people could march in protest at the industry.
Neither opposition figure remarked on the jurisdictional dilemma emerging as High Court justices around India side with online gaming operators against punitive state government legislation.
Instead, they appear to be suggesting that governments should attempt to bypass High Court orders through incremental tweaking and passage of legislation, despite the court’s comprehensive rejection of key planks of the original law.
Although this may reflect jockeying among opposition leaders for control of the anti-government narrative, Tamil Nadu authorities may also be preparing to lobby for a punitive national law.
Law minister S. Regupathy said on June 12 that the state government could petition the central government for a national ban.
“Even if we ban online rummy, there are chances that people will travel to neighbouring states and play it. So, we want to avoid such a situation and work to bring a common legislation to ban online rummy throughout the country,” he said.
This is perhaps an overly ambitious goal, given that states exercise jurisdiction over gambling matters and that the Supreme Court has firmly supported skill games with stakes in several rulings.
Still, a similar situation is developing in Kerala, where government and opposition politicians maintain a consensus of hostility against the industry.
Local police have secured the support of government lawyers and the Home Department to amend the state’s Gaming Act to ban online rummy amid reports of gaming-linked suicide, according to a July 12 editorial in the online Kerala Kaumudi newspaper.
This is despite a Kerala High Court decision last September that strongly defended online gaming when striking down a notification that stripped online rummy of legal standing.
It remains unclear what strategy the amendments will take, although the Kaumudi editorial implies that lawmakers did not understand the distinction between land-based and online skill gaming and that this provides anti-gaming forces with an opportunity.
“Attention should be paid to amending the law by closing all loopholes,” the editorial said. “Online rummy is a menace that needs to be stopped no matter what."