India’s battle with gambling, and especially online gambling, continues. Justices with the Karnataka High Court ruled this week that the state government went too far last year in blocking online gambling.
India has been involved in an internal struggle with gambling for a number of years. Lawmakers in states around the country have a difficult time distinguishing between skill and luck. Several states decided to lump everything into the luck category, and then moved to ban all forms of gambling. However, when the state of Karnataka implemented legal changes last year, it overstepped its authority.
Karnataka Lawmakers Go Too Far
Lawmakers in Karnataka updated the Karnataka Police Act last October. That made all forms of online gambling illegal. Under the new guidance, anything involving wagers, or even a hint of betting, was off limits.
So determined was the government to intervene that it asserted that any form of online gaming was punishable by an automatic three-year jail term and a fine of 1 lakh, or US$1,400.
This, obviously, met with swift resistance. Several gaming companies – some that even had no involvement in gambling activity – took their grievance to court. The Karnataka High Court listened and intervened this past Monday.
The three High Court justices ruled that the government had implemented laws that were unconstitutional. In addition, they determined that the government had no authority to establish the controls and penalties it tried to introduce.
However, the court also issued a warning. In its ruling, it said that the decision doesn’t mean lawmakers can’t try again. That’s as long as they stay within the limits of the constitution when they introduce new measures.
For now, the gaming operators are safe. Karnataka cannot intervene if gaming operators turn their servers and networks back on and begin welcoming back customers.
Confusion Across India
The debate over gambling in India has been around for years. Repeatedly, state governments have stepped in and sought to prevent virtually every form of gambling. The only exception, despite it being a known form of gambling, are state-run lotteries.
The states of Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, and Telangana have outlawed online gambling. Madras has as well. But its high court already threw out the attempt. The same occurred in Kerala and Punjab.
In all jurisdictions, horse racing and rummy have been considered games of skill, which are not subject to gaming laws. This is based on whether luck or skills are predominant in the outcome.
A further argument was made that states don’t have the “legislative competency” to ban games of skill, and that only games of chance fall into the “gambling” category. However, the debate over what constitutes a game of chance or a game of skill continues, despite having made its first appearance well over a decade ago.
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