Online Rummy – A game of skill or a game of chance?

author Nisha Sinha

calender February 8, 2023

Online Rummy – A game of skill or a game of chance?

The Andhra Pradesh High Court (vide its order dated January 31, 2023) in the case of Head digital works private limited vs State of Andhra Pradesh was encountered with the issue on whether or not online rummy is a game of skill or a skill of chance. The Andhra Pradesh High Court directed the State Government to form a committee to submit a report as to the manner in which the game is played and also as to whether any element of chance is involved, and if so, to what extent.

In this particular case, the petitioner company was engaged in business of designing, developing the software related to games, deploying and maintaining online website and mobile applications based on games for the Indian market through the internet. The petitioner developed the Online Rummy game in the year 2007 and allowed the public to play it without any real cash. But, in the year 2009, the petitioner provided a platform for public to register themselves to play Online Rummy with real cash by way of buying online chips on its electronic platform and to participate in tournaments, etc. 

A writ petition was filed seeking issuance of a Writ of Mandamus to declare the amendments to Section 2(1), 2(2), 2(4), 3(1), 3A, 4, 5, 6 and the complete substitution to Section 15 of the Andhra Pradesh Gaming Act, 1974 as unlawful, arbitrary and ultra vires of Articles 14, 19 (1)(g) and 21 of the Constitution of India.  Before the amendments were made, any game of skill wherever played, was exempted from the purview of the Act in view of Section 15 of the Act.  The main issue which came up for consideration in the present case was whether Online Rummy is a “game of skill” or a “game of chance”.

The Petitioner contented that the game of ‘Rummy’ is considered as a ‘game of skill’ and online rummy is no different from playing physical rummy other than the fact that the game is played virtually. Petitioner argued that it ensured highest standards of security measures on its platforms for providing its users/ players a secure platform. The Petitioner argued that the very nature of game of Rummy requires predominant level of skill in playing the game and it does not change even when the game is played online. The Petitioner further submitted that even in online game there is shuffling of cards, the players need to memorize cards that are discarded and accordingly decide on holding and discarding the cards suitable to the game. The Petitioner averred that the “game of skill” would not be tantamount to gaming/gambling and as such classifying all games of skill including the game of Rummy as gaming/gambling is arbitrary.

According to the petitioner, for any game to be declared as a “game of skill” or “chance”, the deciding factor is predominance of element of “skill” or “chance”. It was also submitted that gambling is construed to be something which does not depend to a substantial degree upon the exercise of skill, therefore when there is exercise of skill, it ought not to be considered as gambling. In Rummy, element of skill predominates chance, making Rummy a game of skill.

The Respondent in the present Petition averred that there is lack of transparency and scope for manipulation in the game of online rummy as the shuffling of cards are not visible to players and as the online dealer has full visibility of cards. They further claimed that since the game is played virtually one will not know against whom he is playing and there could be a chance of the Petitioner’s having its own players in the guise of normal players, further there could also be a chance of minors playing online rummy by asserting as major. It was also submitted that if any manipulation or cheating arises, there is no option for player to seek any redressal, as there is no access to dealer or to any other players. The Respondent submitted that Online rummy is played against the unknown or automated mechanism and such a game with so many elements of uncertainty/chance and played for the stakes, cannot be ruled as a game of skill. 

The Responded further argued that the players of “physical rummy” would train themselves to the various vagaries of the game, over a period of time, whereas, the same amount of training is not available to online players of rummy, which makes ‘Online Rummy’ more a “game of chance” than “skill”. He further stressed that in “physical rummy”, players build his game of rummy by paying attention to every card picked or discarded by the opponents, thus, the attention is paid to entire game and not just to the cards in his hand. This is not possible while playing online rummy as players in Online rummy are given a limited amount of time to pick up a card from the deck and then to discard a card, if a player fails to discard the card within the time-limit set, then the last card picked up by the player from the deck gets discarded automatically. Thus, due to pressure of time-limit set by the Petitioners to discard the cards, the players attention to the game is curtailed. On the other hand, no such time-limit to discard a card is set to the players in physical rummy, which makes online rummy a more “game of chance” rather than a “game of skill”.

The Hon’ble Court stated that in order to decide the issue whether the Online Rummy is game of skill or game of chance it is significant to understand how Online Rummy is played.  The question of facts namely as to how Online Rummy is played and operated, what is the time limit for discarding a card, identity of the players, technique involved in the game, whether the game is played in a fool proof manner, avoiding mischief and malpractice and other such information is disputed in the present petition and there is no material on record to prove the same.  Therefore, it is significant to know how the game of Online Rummy is played and the manner in which the operator functions before deciding on the issue. Hence, the Apex Court directed the State Government to form a committee to submit a report as to the manner in which the Online Rummy is played and then only make a decision on the issue whether Online Rummy can be considered as a game of skill or game of chance.

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