Karnataka Online Gaming Ban: HC to hear petitions for interim orders tomorrow

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The writ petitions challenging the legal validity of the recent Karnataka gaming law amendment came up for hearing today before the bench of Justice Krishna S. Dixit. Senior Advocate Arvind P. Datar appeared for the All India Gaming Federation (AIGF), the Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi appeared for GamesKraft. Gaming unicorn MPL was represented by Senior Advocate DLN Rao while Advocate General Prabhulinga Navadgi appeared for the state. The case was last heard on 22 October.

Senior Advocate Datar argued that the State lacked legislative competence to enact laws banning games of skill when the same were permitted by the Supreme Court. Pointing to Entry 34 (betting and gambling) of the state list, Datar argued that the state lacked legislative competence when games of skill wouldn’t be falling within entry 34. The senior lawyer referred to landmark cases R. M. D. Chamarbaugwalla, Dr K.R. Lakshmanan which dealt with games of skill and games of chance.

Responding to a query by the bench, Mr Datar argued that skills and talent required by the players were the elements that decided whether it was a game of chance or skill. Comparing the recent Tamil Nadu law, Datar said the Karnataka law is the widest, it makes no distinction between the game of skill and the game of chance. “Prima facie the law is bad, similar legislation has been examined by the Madras HC,” argued Datar referring to the recent Madras High Court judgement.

Appearing for another petitioner GamesKraft, senior lawyer Abhishek M Singhvi argued that the law appears to be a result of “populism and paternalism”. Singhvi also referred to the recent Kerala High Court judgement quashing a notification banning online rummy. The petitioner lawyers also sought protection from criminal prosecution under the amended law.

The A-G appearing for the State submitted that it was not possible to give an undertaking that no action would be initiated on online gaming operators till the court adjudicates the petitions challenging the amended law, which prohibits and criminalises the playing of online games, including games of skill, by risking money or otherwise.

The State cannot offer a blanket protection from initiation of criminal proceedings under the new law on online gaming operators as there exist games of chance as well, and there are contentious issues over the online version of games of skills compared to their physical format,” State Advocate-General Prabhuling K. Navadgi informed the court.

The court scheduled the further arguments tomorrow for interim orders.