1.1 current Outlook
A day after the Law Commission of India released its report entitled 'Legal Framework: Gambling and Sports Betting Including in Cricket in India ("Report"), the Commission released a press note stressing that its recommendation was to ban betting and gambling in India. However, if the Central Government or State Governments did consider regulating it, the Report set out some positive and logical measures to combat certain industry issues. The Report is under consideration by the Government.
On the heels of the Report, the Sports (Online Gaming and Prevention of Fraud) Bill, 2018 ("Sports Bill") was introduced as a private members bill in the Lok Sabha, on 28 December 2018. The Statement of Objects and Reasons accompanying the Sports Bill has underscored that it has been introduced with the dual aims of preserving integrity in sports and introducing a regulatory regime for online sports betting.
However, the Sports Bill lapsed with the dissolution of Parliament prior to general elections, and has not been reintroduced.
The All India Gaming Federation (AIGF), a self-regulatory body for online games of skill has written to the Prime Minister of India demanding that the Enforcement Directorate investigate and take action against offshore betting websites that are illegally offering websites to Indian citizens and accepting bets from India, in contravention of the Information Technology Act, 2000 ("IT Act") and the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 ("FEMA").
Pending Litigation As stated above, the question of whether sports betting is a game of skill is pending before the Supreme Court in the case of Geeta Rani v Union of India & Ors ("Geeta Rani Case"). If the judgment concludes that sports betting is a game of skill, it will be exempt from most Gaming Enactments and can be offered in most Indian states that recognise an exemption for games of skill.
Insofar as poker is concerned, an appeal is pending against the judgment of the High Court of Gujarat, which has held that poker is a game of chance/gambling activity.
Furthermore, the Telangana Gaming Act, 1974 ("Telangana Act") was recently amended to delete the exception for games of skill. The Telangana Gaming (Amendment) Act, 2017 ("Amendment Act") is currently being challenged before the High Court of Hyderabad.
In the case of Ramachandran K v The Circle Inspector of Police, the Kerala High Court has held that playing rummy for stakes would amount to the offence of gambling under the Kerala Gaming Act, 1960 ("Kerala Act"). Previously, in the landmark judgment of State of Andhra Pradesh v K Satyanarayana, the Supreme Court had held that 13-card rummy was mainly and preponderantly a game of skill. A review petition was filed against the order of the Kerala High Court, but was dismissed. The court held that whether rummy played for stakes would amount to gambling would have to be decided on a case-by-case basis. A court would need to consider the manner in which the games were conducted online, and what stakes were involved.
In a case before the High Court of Delhi, a petitioner has sought a complete ban on online gambling websites from operating in India (both Indian and foreign). The petitioner has sought certain directions from Government entities that taxes are recovered from persons engaged in such gambling activities, and that violations of FEMA are checked. This petition is targeted only at games of chance, and has named poker, nap, sports betting, fantasy sports and election result prediction-related games as an illustrative list.
As per news reports, another public interest litigation case has been filed before the High Court of Delhi seeking a complete ban on poker and similar card games, played online and offline. The petition has also reportedly sought a ban on the advertising of such games. 1.2 recent changes As stated above, a review petition was filed against the order of the High Court of Kerala in the matter of Play Games 24X7 Pvt. Ltd v Ramachandran K & Anr. However, the court dismissed the petition, and held that whether playing rummy for stakes (including online rummy) would amount to a violation of the Kerala Act would have to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
The dismissal of the review petition has called into question whether any games of skill can be played for stakes.
Certain self- regulatory gaming bodies in India have adopted skill charters and guidelines to ensure player protection, transparency measures, etc.
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