Gaming Ban Law: Karnataka HC quashes FIR against Dream11 co-founders

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Karnataka High Court today quashed an FIR filed by the state police against Dream11 cofounders Harsh Jain and Bhavit Sheth pertaining to the state’s online gaming ban law. The Dream11 co-founders challenged the FIR filed for operating the fantasy platform after notification of the online gaming ban law in October last year. The matter was listed today before a single-judge bench of Justice M. Nagaprasanna.

The outcome is on expected lines as the Karnataka High Court had struck down certain provisions of the Karnataka Police Act that deals with gaming for stakes as unconstitutional last month. Following the decision, fantasy and gaming platforms have resumed operations in the state.

The petitioners that challenged the law include skill gaming industry body All India Gaming Federation (AIGF), self-regulatory fantasy sports industry body Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS), Galactus Software that operates Mobile Premier League (MPL), Games24x7, Head Digital that operates A23(Ace2Three), Junglee Games, Gameskraft and Pacific Games. These petitions had challenged the constitutional validity of amendments made to the Karnataka Police Act,1963 that had banned all forms of online gaming for stakes.

The Karnataka Police (Annaporneswari Police Station – Bengaluru) had initially filed a case against Dream11 and its cofounders on October 8 for continuing operations on its platform after the law was notified on October 5. Fantasy sports industry body FIFS obtained a legal opinion from former Supreme Court Justice Ashok Bhushan that the gaming ban law is not applicable to fantasy sports platforms.

Dream11 had then said the law did not apply to members of the FIFS, since the format “has been upheld by the courts of India as not amounting to gambling, betting or wagering”.

However, it suspended operations in Karnataka on October 10, stating that this move was made to allay “deep concerns and anxiety” from its users in the state.

In writ petition challenging the FIR, the co-founders relied on Supreme Court cases on games of skill enjoying the right to trade and commerce under Article 19(1)(g) of the constitution as well as judgments of Punjab & Haryana, Rajasthan, and Bombay High Courts ruling fantasy sports to be a game of skill and enjoying constitutional protection. On October 28 last year, the Karnataka High Court had directed the state government not to take any coercive action against the Dream11 cofounders.