Karnataka Gaming Ban: We have not banned games of skill, cricket is the example – AG before the High Court

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The writ petitions challenging the State’s online gaming ban law were heard today by a bench comprising of Chief Justice and Justice Krishna S. Dixit. This is the third day of hearing by the division bench. In the earlier hearings, the bench heard the petitioners represented by senior counsels C.A. Sundaram, Arvind Datar, Sajan Poovayya, DLN Rao, Mukul Rohtagi, and Abhishek Manu Singhvi.

The counsel appearing for PokerSaint began the arguments. “My client here has only two games- rummy and poker. There is legislative recognition that poker is a game of skill. The law commission has gone extensively into the entire landscape of online gaming,” the counsel submitted before the bench. The counsel referred to the 276th law commission report.

As the counsel tried to explain what is a game of chance, the bench said that the hearing is only for interim relief. “We just have to see what prima facie case is made out in your favour. For that show us, in the game of poker, what skill is involved?

Also read: Exclusive: Odisha Gambling Act manifestly arbitrary and unreasonable, WinZO Games before the High Court

The counsel contended that poker is one game where you can turn professional, like tennis. “If I’m restrained from playing the game online, my profession is being interfered with.”

The counsel submitted that in a game of chance, players cannot improve on the game because it is based on luck. But in the case of poker, the more a player plays the game, the more his skills get enhanced. The counsel referred to the book Mathematics of Poker by Bill Chen and Jerrod Ankenman to discuss the skill involved in the game of poker. Justice Dixit interrupted at this time asking for the credentials of the author for which the counsel responded that this is the foremost book available on the poker subject.

The counsel referred to the laws of Nagaland and West Bengal when the bench asked why should they refer to other states in a federal structure to decide the constitutional validity of the present law. “Confine it to relevant things,” the bench said.

The counsel referred to the recent MOU between MPL and Telangana to argue that the gaming ban resulted in a loss of jobs. Justice Dixit responded saying Telangana already banned these games. The counsel argued that games of skill and games of chance are two different classes and clubbing them is arbitrary and unreasonable.

The Advocate General appeared on behalf of the State, who referred to a PIL filed before the High Court seeking law on online gaming. In July 2021, the Chief Secretary filed an affidavit stating the state will bring a law concerning online gaming. “Wagering or betting for the purposes of placing stakes on an unknown result of an event.” Karnataka High Court responded to this stating unknown result is there in every game. “This is what we call wagering and betting, in the wisdom of the legislature,” the AG responded.

There is nothing to do with a game of skill. We are concerned with an organised syndicate collecting bets on an unknown event. That is what the Supreme Court says,” the AG said. “We have not in any way banned games of skill. Classic example is cricket itself.”

In the context, of Section 78, the Petitions are very misconceived. None of the Petitioners are charged under 78,” the AG contended. Section 78 penalises the offence concerning gaming. The AG said that there are more than 5000-6000 games and it is practically impossible for a writ court to give a certificate if everyone comes.

AG is saying even game of skill is banned,” Senior Counsel CA Sundaram said. “I am saying you must come under section 78,” AG responded. With this, the bench rose for the day. As the AG queried if he can continue the arguments tomorrow, the bench posted the matter for November 30.

In the end, Advocate Abhishek Malhotra representing game developer Paavan Nanda mentioned the petition. Malhotra said his petition raises a distinct question as the petitioner’s rights as a game developer are impacted. Paavan Nanda is a co-founder of WinZO Games.