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Karnataka High Court Concludes Final Hearing in Online Gaming Ban Case, Reserves Judgment

Karnataka High Court
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  • Namita Ghosh December 23, 2021
  • 2 Minutes Read

On Wednesday, the Karnataka High Court concluded the final hearing of the batch of petitions filed against the state government’s recently notified law banning all forms of real-money online gaming.

The division bench comprising Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi and Justice Krishna S Dixit heard the final submissions of the parties with Advocate-General (AG) Prabhulinga K Navadgi and Senior Advocates Mukul Rohatgi, Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, C Aryama Sundaram, DLN Rao, and Sajan Poovayya making the final arguments in the case. The court also heard arguments from the Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS) that joined as a petitioner earlier this month.

While the petitions were initially filed for interim relief, the matter was heard for a final order after the concurrence of the parties.

The bench has reserved its judgment and directed the remaining petitioners to submit written rejoinders. A final decision is awaited after the court reopens after the winter break on January 1, 2022.

Karnataka has been a vital hub for online gaming in the past, and all eyes are now on the High Court judgment that could shape or destroy the future of online gaming in the state. Either way, an appeal of the final order in the Supreme Court cannot also be ruled out.


Online Gaming in Karnataka – The Storyline

On October 5, the Karnataka government notified the contentious Karnataka Police (Amendment) Compliance Act, 2021, effectively banning all forms of real-money online gaming in the state and making it a punishable offense to conduct or play such games.

On October 7, five gaming sector components, namely, All India Gaming Federation (AIGF), Mobile Premier League (MPL), Games 24X7, Gameskraft, and Head Digital Works, filed writ petitions challenging the ban in High Court. Later, other petitioners like Junglee Games and the Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS) also joined in.

The matter first came up for hearing in front of the Karnataka High Court on October 22 and was heard at length across 10 sessions.


Submissions Made in the Final Hearing on December 22

Here is a brief summary of the final submissions made to the bench:

> Advocate General Prabhulinga K Navadgi, citing the example of cricket, underlined how games of skill lose their nature when the public is invited. He also differentiated the cases decided by the High Courts of Bombay, Punjab, and Haryana in context to Dream11.

He stated – “What expertise will a person staying in Raichur exercise on a game of club football?”

Referring to the Kerala Lottery case pending before the Apex Court, the AG argued online lotteries cannot be equated with offline lotteries. Hence, even online games and offline games must be treated separately.

> Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi representing FIFS read out the charter of the Federation and said stated a player has to study many aspects for fantasy games. Rohatgi also read out the Niti Aayog report and argued the state government was attempting to prevent games of chance and gambling through the new law. But clubbing games of skill and chance together created a legislature that is arbitrary and counters the Supreme Court judgment that legally permits games of skill.

He said – “If I take this Amendment Act as it stands today if I am playing a game of chess online and we say the winner will take away an amount, it will amount to an offense. The Act takes into its compass acts which are not gambling.”

> Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, highlighting the difference between a game of chance and a game of skill, said – “Games of chance alone can be regulated to the point of being banned by the state authorities. Conversely to this, state governments have no jurisdiction to ban games of skills.”

Industry watchdogs and players alike are awaiting a definite order in the matter with bated breath, even as a similar case in the Madras High Court order is pending under appeal in front of the Supreme Court.

Keep following PokerGuru for the latest updates on this developing story!

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