Karnataka HC strikes down gaming ban law as unconstitutional

Published on:

The Karnataka High Court today struck down the amendments to the Karnataka Police Act, 1963 which banned online games including online rummy and online poker with stakes. This decision comes in at a time as the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the appeal by the Tamil Nadu government challenging a similar decision by the Madras High Court.

The Madras High Court in August 2021 struck down in its entirety the amendment to the Tamil Nadu Gaming Act which banned online games including online rummy and online poker with stakes, in what many in India’s online gaming business described as a landmark verdict.

“The writ petitions succeed. The provisions are ultra vires of the Constitution and struck down,” Justice Krishna S. Dixit said. The Court said that the entire Act is not struck down but only the offending provisions. The Bench clarified that the judgment will not stand in the way of legislature bringing in a new law in consonance with the Constitution against gambling.

The petitioners before the Karnataka High Court focused on the fact that banning online skill-based games violates the companies’ fundamental rights and law to curtail any harm must be proportionate and a complete ban should be only used as a last resort if other less intrusive options are not viable.

Subscribe to get email updates on Gaming Laws

* indicates required

Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi appearing for one of the petitioners argued that banning online games for persons above 18 years is a form of unreasonable, external, paternalistic value judgment that cannot be permitted, and violates Articles 14, 19 (1)(g) and 21 of the Indian constitution. Singhvi made similar arguments before Madras High Court as well.

The parties in the petitions challenging the Karnataka online gaming ban law concluded the oral arguments before the High Court on 22 December 2021. The petitioners include gaming companies, individuals, and industry bodies. The Karnataka Police (Amendment) Act, 2021, notified on October 5 makes all forms of gaming for stakes, including online, a cognizable and non-bailable offence.

The petitioners 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.

The matter came up for hearing for the first time on 22 October 2021 and was listed on 12 days in total. A battery of senior advocates Dr. Abhishek Singhvi, Mukul Rohatgi, Gopal Jain, Sajan Poovayya, DLN Rao, Arvind Datar, and CA Sundaram appeared in the matter.

The petition which was initially listed only for interim relief was heard for final arguments based on the concurrence of all the parties involved. The petitioners relied on the recent judgments of Madras and Kerala High Court and also decades-old cases like RMB Chamarbaugwala, State of Andhra Pradesh vs. K. Satyanarayana. The Advocate General (AG) appearing for the government tried to differentiate between the earlier decisions and the present facts. The AG argued that games of skill would lose their nature when the public at large is invited.

The matter was reserved on December 22 and is listed for February 14 (today) for the decision.

This is a developing story.