Decide if fantasy sports amounts to gambling: Delhi HC to State Govt

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The Delhi High Court Friday asked the Delhi government to consider and decide a representation claiming that ‘GAMEKING 11’, a fantasy sports game, is a skill game not amounting to gambling, and the authorities including the police should not create any hindrance in its operation, reported PTI. The petition is filed by Dream7 Entertainment Pvt Ltd the operator of the fantasy sports platform GAMEKING 11.

The matter was listed today before the bench of Justice V Kameswar Rao. The petitioner argued that other high courts have held that other similar fantasy sports games amounted to games of skill. In the plea filed through lawyers Ajay Kumar Singh and Yatharth Singh, the petitioner claimed that it was a leading platform for online fantasy sports games such as fantasy cricket, fantasy kabaddi, and fantasy football.

The petition stated that ‘GAMEKING 11’ did not attract the rigors of the Delhi Gambling Act, 1955, and the petitioner possessed the necessary trade licence from South Delhi Municipal Corporation. The petitioner claimed that it is entitled to protect its right to free trade under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India.

Senior counsel Vinay K Garg, appearing for the petitioner, contended that ‘GAMEKING 11’ required a player to select his team of 11 but “did not gamble on the performance of actual player”.

What is the skill? There is no skill in choosing Messi and Maradona,” the bench countered as per a report on PTI. The senior counsel explained that “skill was in selection” as “Messi and Maradona are costly players and with say 100 numbers a user has to choose 11 players” for his team.

You are saying it is a game of skill. Let the authorities apply their mind and come back to you. You will have a clearer picture when that order comes to you,” the judge responded.

The court clarified that the petitioner is free to seek the remedies available in law to it after the decision. Delhi government counsel Santosh Kumar Tripathi submitted that the writ petition can be considered as a representation by the competent authority and a speaking order can be passed within two weeks.

A user “selects, builds and acts as manager” of his virtual team constituting of real players who compete with the virtual teams of other users for points, and “winner of such fantasy sports game is the participant whose virtual team accumulates the greatest number of points across the round(s) of the game”, the petition read.

The officer of Respondent No.2 (Delhi Police) at P.S. Lajpat Nagar New Delhi, has visited the premises of the petitioner in the area, several times and has without passing any order in writing, orally directed not to continue with the aforesaid activity else the same shall be booked under the Delhi Gambling Act and closed down,” the petition alleged.

It is pertinent to note that the Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS), the self-regulatory body of online fantasy sports platforms in the country had obtained a legal opinion from the Hon’ble Justice (Rt) Ashok Bhushan on the applicability of the recently notified amendment to the Karnataka Police Act, 1963 (KPA) to OFS operators. The Justice opined that the courts have consistently held fantasy sports as a skill predominant and as a legitimate business activity, duly protected under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India.

FIFS, a section 8 not-for-profit company is founded and controlled by Dream11. “The intent of the legislature was not to cover legitimate business activity which is evident from the substantive section 2(7) and in line with the settled legal position that OFS based on FIFS charter, does not amount to wagering or betting,” reads the opinion which is now available on the FIFS website. “Having already judicially determined that the game is game of skill and it cannot be given the character of ‘gambling’ by legal fiction and prohibited.”