PIL filed before Karnataka HC to prohibit FIFS charter compliant fantasy sports

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A PIL has been filed with the Karnataka High Court praying for directions to the Karnataka government to amend the Karnataka Police Act, 1963 (KPA) to prohibit the offering and playing of FIFS-compliant fantasy sports in the state of Karnataka. The petitioner added the Karnataka government and FIFS as the respondents.

The petitioner further prayed for notifying the offering and playing of FIFS compliant fantasy sports as a criminal offence under KPA. At the time of writing this, the petition was allotted an FR number and is pending final registration.

Even after notifying amendments to the KPA, “the respondent no.1 (Karnataka government) had not prohibited the offering and playing of these online fantasy sports compliant with the charter of the respondent no. 2,” reads the petition which has been uploaded by FIFS on its website.

FIFS (Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports), a section 8 not-for-profit company is a self-regulatory body for fantasy sports in India. FIFS had obtained a legal opinion from the Hon’ble Justice (Rt) Ashok Bhushan on the applicability of the recently notified amendments to the KPA to the online fantasy sports operators. “The intent of the legislature was not to cover legitimate business activity which is evident from the substantive section 2(7) and in line with the settled legal position that OFS based on FIFS charter, does not amount to wagering or betting,” reads the opinion. The former judge stated that online fantasy sports are not covered under gaming as defined under the KPA and the operators can very well continue their legitimate business activity as it is protected under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.

Dream11 relied on this opinion obtained by FIFS to continue operations till the afternoon of October 10 (Sunday), while other major operators like PaytmFirst, MPL, BalleBaazi discontinued operations in the state from October 6. The present petition was filed on October 8 when Dream11 was still operating.

Saahil – Serial PIL litigant?

The petitioner Saahil Nalwaya claims to be a resident of Rajasthan. He had earlier filed a PIL before Rajasthan High Court seeking a ban on fantasy sports which was dismissed. “Since the result of fantasy game depends on skill of participant and not sheer chance, and winning or losing of the virtual team created by the participant is also independent of the outcome of the game or event in the real world, we hold that the format of online fantasy game offered by respondent No.5 is a game of mere skill and their business has protection under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India, as repeatedly held by various Courts and affirmed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court,” held the Rajasthan High Court while dismissing his petition.

The petitioner stated that the Rajasthan High Court erred in observing that offering of online fantasy sports in accordance with the charter of FIFS has already been judicially recognised as a business entitled to protection under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. The question of the legality of fantasy sports has been dealt with by multiple High Courts and by the Supreme Court as recently as July 2021.

The petition states the examples of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu which have enacted laws to prohibit all forms of online gaming for stakes. The Tamil Nadu amendment was recently struck down by the Madras High Court which the petition omits to mention.

All major players have already shut shop in the state (Dream11 was the last operator to shut on October 10). Five petitions are pending before Karnataka High Court challenging the recent amendment, including one by gaming unicorn Mobile Premier League (MPL).