Legality of rummy for stakes to be decided on case to case basis: Kerala High Court

The Kerala High Court (“Court”) on October 11, 2019, in the revision petition (“Petition”) filed against the judgment in Ramachandran K v. The Circle Inspector of Police (“Judgment”) on January 24, 2019, decided that legality of rummy for stakes will have to be examined on case to case to basis.


In the present Petition, third parties sought review of the Judgment passed by the Court, in which the Court held that playing rummy for stakes within the club premises is an offence under Kerala Gaming Act, 1960 (“Act”). The Court further held that it would be on police’s discretion to take appropriate measures after complying with Section 5 of the Act.

The Court, also noted that Section 14A of the Act empowers the state government to exempt any game from the provisions of the Act, by way of issuing a notification to this effect. However, there was no notification from the government exempting rummy from the provisions of this Act.

After the judgment was delivered, some third party companies involved in creating and managing offline or online rummy competitions on their website, filed the Petition claiming that in 1976, the state government had issued a notification dated September 30, 1976 (“Notification”) exempting rummy from the provisions of the Act on the condition that there is no side betting involved. The petitioners claimed that since the Court failed to take note of the Notification, the Judgment needs to be reviewed.

What did the Court hold?

The Court stated that playing rummy was exempted from the provisions of the Act, as per the Notification. The Court noted that in the Judgment it was held that rummy is predominantly a game of skill and the manner in which the game is played is not of much importance.

The Court referred to Supreme Court of India decisions in State of A.P v. K. Satyanarayana and Dr. K.R. Lakshmanan v. State of Tamil Nadu and others, and held that even a game of skill, if played for stakes shall be considered as gambling as per the provisions of the Act.

The Court, further stated that a game of rummy if played without any stakes is protected by the application of the Notification, however, if there is side betting then the matter shall be decided on a case to case basis. Therefore, application of the notification will have to adjudged on case to case basis.

Quick View

The gaming laws in India is not uniform. Games of skills i.e., the games in which the element of skill is predominant than the element of chance are generally not considered as gambling except in the states of Assam, Telangana and Odisha, which do not create any distinction between the games of skill and games of chance.

In the present case, the Court has missed the chance to provide any conclusive remark on the ongoing debate of whether games of skills played for stakes will be considered as gambling or not. Although, the Court noted that rummy is a game of skill, it held that if rummy is played for stakes, then each case has to be examined on its own merits to determine whether or not it violates the provisions of the Act.

This ambivalence has the potential to cause disruptions to the operations of online rummy players in Kerala. In the absence of any concrete pronouncement, online rummy operators are left at the mercy of the courts to determine whether or not their operations in the state of Kerala are legal.

Given the lack of a definitive pronouncement, it will be interesting to see if the online rummy operators choose to move the Kerala High Court again for further clarity on this issue.

However, the Court then went on to say that the application of the Notification will be judged on case to case basis. The Court, instead of making a concrete judgment and settling the issue, left it undecided and confusing for the operators as well as the users.

In a matter where there could be only two outcomes, the Court has introduced a third one. So, technically, if you are playing rummy online in Kerala, you either place a bet or you don’t place a bet for playing. In case you place a bet, then it should be considered as gambling as per the Notification and if there are no bets involved then it is not gambling, again as per the Notification. When the Court says that it should be decided on case to case basis, technically it means that the “bets” will be examined further and then it will be decided if it is betting or not and thus has complicated the matter even more.

It will be interesting to see if the online rummy operators again move to the Court for further clarity on this issue.

Disclaimer: This post has been prepared for informational purposes only. The information/or observations contained in this post does not constitute legal advice and should not be acted upon in any specific situation without seeking proper legal advice from a practicing attorney.

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