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Game of skill loses its nature once the public at large are invited – Advocate General before Karnataka HC

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A special bench of the Karnataka High Court continued to hear the batch of petitions filed challenging the Karnataka online gaming legislation. As the hearing commenced, the Chief Justice said they would be in favour to consider this hearing as a final hearing. Initially, the hearing was for an interim order.

With the consensus of the petitioners and the respondent, the bench said the arguments will now be considered as final arguments. Lawyers representing the parties are permitted to file a rejoinder for additional judgments or facts. Advocate Shridhar Prabhu on behalf of intervenor Sharadha DR is left to make his submissions. Yesterday, the AG said every person can now hold a handheld gambling device.

Sharadha DR earlier filed a writ petition seeking a legislation to ban online games. This petition was dismissed as infructuous after the enactment of the online gaming law.

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Learned AG distinguished the judgments cited by the petitioners & contended that none of the judgments support the submission that game of skill should be played for stakes and for-profit. He said Lakshmanan’s judgment relied on by the petitioners was only limited to horse racing in racecourse & not outside. He further noted that the Madras HC judgment striking down the TN law has been appealed in SC and the hearing is pending. AG said the contentions raised by him were not raised before the Madras High Court.

He cited the catena of judgments to point out that wagering or betting is pernicious & outside the ambit of trade & commerce & if a game of skill is played for stakes & profit is made, it is to be treated as gambling. He also cited a New York SC judgment ruling fantasy sports to be a game of chance.

The top government lawyer said online games and offline games must be treated separately. He referred to the All Kerala Online Lottery Dealers and others vs State Of Kerala & Ors judgment dated 5 November 2015 where the Apex Court held that “the online lottery is a particular lottery, which is not run by the State Government. So, going by the principles laid down in B.R. Enterprises (supra), the State Government can separately ban the sale of online lotteries as online lottery is a particular class of lottery, different and distinct from paper lotteries.”

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He also brought an interesting anecdote from the movie Shatranj ke Khiladi where the King of Awadh lost out to the British in the 1857 war because his noblemen were addicted to the game of chess, noting that even playing a game of skill can have pernicious effect & state has the power to curb this immoral activity.

The matter will now be heard on December 6 (Monday) 2:30 pm. The intervenor will be given an opportunity to present his argumments. After that, Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Learned Senior Counsel & Rajya Sabha MP will start his rejoinder, other lawyers will have at least one or two more dates to make their rejoinders.

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