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Gambling lobby powerful, not much can be done: Karnataka CM Bommai

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Karnataka Chief minister Basavaraj Monday informed the legislative assembly that the government is unable to curb the menace of online gambling since operators are “too powerful”. The government had enacted a comprehensive law that imposed a sweeping ban on online games for stakes in October last year, but the Karnataka high court, on February 14, struck down the enactment declaring it ultra vires the Constitution.

The petitioners challenging the law include gaming companies Mobile Premier League, Games24x7, Gameskraft, Head Digital Works Private Ltd, and Junglee Games along with industry bodies like All India Gaming Federation (AIGF) and Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS). The case which was initially listed before a single bench of Justice Krishna S Dixit was later transferred to a division bench of Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi and Justice Krishna S Dixit.

On Monday, Bommai was replying to Ramesh Kumar, Congress MLA, who pointed out that the menace of betting during IPL seasons has been growing. “We have made the game of cricket a race,” the former speaker said. “Please ask the police to crack down before the situation gets out of control. ” Bommai said several officials had tried to dissuade him from bringing in a law to regulate online gambling.

“We carefully studied laws of other states that had banned online gaming and enacted a comprehensive law after plugging loopholes,” Bommai said. “Despite that, online gambling has carried on. This is the situation in other states too. It shows how powerful online betting operators are.”

“But I stood my ground since I know how families are being ruined due to the menace,” he said. Stringent legislation against gambling and betting is “the need of the hour for the state”, Bommai said, adding that gambling clubs are rampant. “If we raid them, the next day the accused walks out on bail,” he expressed regret.

He also revealed one gaming operator had approached him with an offer to provide free Covid-19 vaccines to one lakh people of Shiggaon, his constituency if he dropped his efforts to ban online gaming.

“I told him I don’t want a share in his ill-gotten money,” Bommai said. He said during his tenure as home minister, gambling was made a cognizable offence and the punishment was increased from six months to one year to three to five years imprisonment. “Earlier, gambling was a non-cognizable offence and the accused would get station bail and resume their business. Most social clubs are only namesake; what actually happens there is gambling,” he said.

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