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Written by: Sagar Rana (Intern)

Edited by: Anubhav Yadav (Content Head & Developer)

The Karnataka High Court has once again reminded the state government towards making a decision on how the state will treat online betting and gambling services. The state government, in February, conveyed to the court through a submission that it would bring a legislation to regulate the subject matter.

This action by the court was in response to the regulatory void with respect to online gambling, which was pointed out by the petitioner Sharada DR, who had made a representation to the state government in September 2020 and followed it up in October 2020 with a reminder. But they did not receive a response. Consequently, the Petitioner filed a petition with the High Court, seeking a ban on online gambling and betting.

The contentions put forward by the Petitioner are:• 

  • The State of Karnataka has, as of now, no policy or rules to check whether any activity or game involves chance or skill. Though offline rummy is a game of skill, but it cannot be said for the game when it is on the online platform.
  • Many of these games are in trend are easily accessible which, due to lack of regulation, caneven be played by children.
  • Due to COVID-19 pandemic, the increasing usage of such services led many states recently to illegalise or regulate online gambling and betting. One of such example is the action of the Kerala government to make online gambling illegal.

Chapter VII of the Karnataka State Police Act, 1963 has over encompassing provision governing the wagering and betting in the traditional form of Gaming. However, this legislation specifically lacks in regulating online gaming or prevention of online gambling, wagering and betting. These Gambling Legislations were enacted prior to the advent of virtual/online gambling and therefore primarily refer to gambling activities taking place in physical premises, defined as “gaming or common gaming houses”. The most common forms of gambling in India, from time immemorial, are the many versions of card games like teen patti (akin to flush), poker, rummy and bridge, as well as sports betting. 

With the dawn of technology, these games have effectively extended their reach and popularity via the digital medium. Most popular online gambling sites in India are card games sites hosting Rummy and Poker tournaments. The Gambling Legislations were enacted when digital media and internet were uncommon and its reach was not as far as it is today. The Gambling Legislations deal with gambling in the context of a physical enclosure, termed a “common gaming houses”. Therefore, when these Gambling Legislations are read in the context of online and digital gambling, their interpretation and applicability get complex.

After taking these observations into account, on 31st March, 2021, the Karnataka High Court directed the state government to decide on a representation made to it seeking to ban all forms of online betting and gambling, so as to bring the subject matter within the legal scope. To enable the state government to take a stand, the court adjourned the petition till June 1 adding that the state government shall be placed on record in the form of objections by May 27.

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