Karnataka HC to hear on October 27 petitions challenging ban on online gaming

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Online All India Gaming Federation and individual online gaming operators have moved court against changes made to Police Act

The Karnataka High Court will hear on October 27 a batch of petitions filed by All India Gaming Federation and individual online gaming operators questioning the legality of several provisions of the Karnataka Police (Amendment) Act, 2021, which prohibits and criminalises the playing of games of skill including online games by risking money or otherwise.

Justice Krishna S. Dixit, before whom the petition filed by the Federation, a not-for -profit society, came up for hearing on Friday said that the interim plea for stay of the operation of the new law, would be considered on October 27 along with other petitions, filed by individual online gaming operators.

The other petitions are filed by Galactus Funware Technology Pvt. Ltd., Bengaluru, Play Games 24X7 Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai, Head Digital Works Pvt. Ltd., Hyderabad, Gameskraft Technologies Pvt. Ltd., Bengaluru, and Junglee Games India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi.

Pointing out that it is settled law that games of skill (involving risking of money or otherwise) do not amount to wagering or betting as interpreted by apex court, and therefore the State cannot prohibit such activities, the federation has contended that the amendments made to the Police Act “unlawfully prohibit the lawful and legitimate business of the members of the federation in providing games of skill.”

Stating that the marquee investors have invested over ₹3,000 crores in the members of the federation who are based out of Karnataka, it has been pointed out in the petition that these members employ more than 1,200 individuals in the State of Karnataka.

There are over 400 start-ups in India, valued at $885 million in the online gaming space, and out of this around 71 online gaming start-ups are registered in Bengaluru and it is estimated that the around 40,000 new jobs will be created by 2022 in this sector, it has been claimed in the petition.

The criminalisation of the games of skill (whether for stakes or not) is going to affect not only the investments made by the members the federation, but the livelihood of the employees who are dependant on this business for their income, it has been claimed in the petition.

That apart, the petitioner said, a large number of professional players who depend on playing games of skill and organising such games of skill for their livelihood would also be impacted from the ban.

“The playing of games of skill, is also a form of speech and expression. The Amending Act, by imposing unreasonable fetters on this freedom of speech and expression is violative of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and is not protected under Article 19(2),” it has been contended in the petition.

Stating that a large number of members of the federation carry out their operations across the country by availing Information Technology services from Bengaluru, it has been claimed in the petition that online gaming operators across the country would be impacted in case of ban imposed in Karnataka.

It has been clarified in the petition that the members of the federation offer games such as poker, chess, rummy, fantasy sports (including fantasy cricket, football and basketball), casual games and e-sports, all of which are games of skill, and none of these games involve wagering and gambling, and games of skill did not fall foul of the Police Act prior to the new law.

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