The Gujarat High Court has directed the state government to look into the issue of online gambling, and take action in accordance with the law in larger public interest before it is too late.
The court said the existing Gujarat Prevention of Gambling Act-1887 remains completely silent on the issue, more particularly online rummy, even as the Internet gambling presents “many of the same concerns that the traditional gambling activities have raised throughout the years”.
A division bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice J B Pardiwala in its September 29 order, which was made available on Tuesday, pointed out that the amended definition of ‘common gaming house’, as per the Telangana Gaming Act, 1974, indicates that gaming includes online gaming for money or any other stakes.
The HC also said that while the Supreme Court has held rummy as a game of skill, “the moot question is whether what is being played is rummy in its true sense or it is just pure and simple gambling”.
The bench directed the Gujarat government to deal with the issue of online gaming which involves gambling, as gaming is a subject matter of the state government according to List II of Schedule VII of the Constitution of India.
“If any website is operating from the state of Gujarat or is engaged in any gambling games, the state shall deal with the same in accordance with law, rules, regulations and the policy as may be applicable,” it said.
The state shall also examine whether such games result in money-laundering or violation of laws related to foreign exchange as well, it said.
“We expect the state government to promptly look into the aforesaid issues and take an appropriate decision in accordance with law in larger public interest before it is too late,” the court said.
The order came on a PIL filed by advocate Amit Nair, who sought the court’s direction to declare online gambling in virtual space/world wide web/cyber space, through mobile applications as well as through computers, more particularly online rummy, as bad and illegal.
The court said, “Internet gambling presents essentially many of the same concerns that the traditional gambling activities have raised throughout the years: uneasiness about the morality of the activity; the likelihood of addiction; the possibility of fraud; and the conflict between the state versus central regulations.”
“The questions of morality primarily surface in connection with the Internet gambling’s accessibility to children, because children have potentially unlimited access to the computers and the Internet,” it observed.
It is possible that without proper monitoring, they may access the gambling websites “as readily as they could access indecent materials,” the HC said.
“The supporters of a ban of Internet gambling maintain that outlawing the activity for all individuals is the only way to ensure that a segment of the population, children, will be adequately protected from corruption,” it said.
Observing that the applicant has pointed out “something very important in public interest,” the high court called upon the government to do the needful.
The court observed that the Gambling Act, 1887 remains “completely silent” on the aspect of online gambling, more particularly online rummy.
This means an individual would get arrested only if he is caught playing rummy/cards outside/in a gambling den in Gujarat, as per the definition of the term ‘common gaming house’ under section 4 of the Act, whereas an individual playing online rummy cannot be arrested or booked for the offence of gambling, it said.
The petitioner submitted that online gambling websites/mobile apps are mushrooming at an alarming level.
He also said several online gambling apps are promoted in Gujarat as well, with estimates putting online rummy as a Rs 2,200-crore industry in India, accounting for half of the country’s online gaming business.
Even when such gambling platforms engage in illegal activities, the same remains unchecked/uncontrolled “due to certain deficiencies in the Gujarat Prevention of Gambling Act, 1887,” Nair’s lawyer Bhargav Hasurkar submitted.
He said the present legal framework in reference to gambling should be regulated to include the virtual or online/cyber space aspects.