Esports community seeks clarity on Karnataka bill banning online gaming for stakes

The passage of Karnataka Police (Amendment) Bill 2021 aimed at banning online gaming for stakes has once again exhumed the beaten-to-the-hilt yet crucial ‘game of skill vs game of chance’ quandary.

Stakeholders have long demanded a central regulatory framework to reign in the excesses of online gaming however Karnataka’s move to impose an outright ban has drawn criticism from a diverse set of forces including the Esports community.

Even though Esports in India is at a nascent stage, its growth prospects appear to be promising. Experts believe that esports in India has the potential to beat traditional sports in terms of popularity, reach, and revenue. Given the ambiguity in the said bill, the need to clarify what kind of online gaming comes under this ban and what doesn’t hasn’t been felt more strongly.

“I’m not sure about which kind of online games will the ruling apply to. So, I will wait for more clarity before I can make out the exact nature of the bill,” says Kiran Noojibail, Co-founder and Head of Esports, Newgen Gaming – Penta Esports.

Nebulous clauses in the 78th amendment sub-section (a) like the fourth and fifth clauses which include ‘game of skill’ could cast a shadow on bourgeoning and uncontroversial segments like Esports where players are required to pay a registration fee.

Demanding clarity in the bill, Priyank Kharge who is the former Minister for IT, Tourism & Social Welfare, Govt of Karnataka had recently shared on Twitter, “Govt needs to be more specific & identify games that encourage betting instead of a blanket ban for all online games. Govt should form a committee With industry stakeholders & come out with a law that curbs online betting instead of a bill that won’t stand the test of law.”

While the bill is well-intentioned, regulating online gaming platforms can be a challenge. As many as 600 gaming startups across the country have sprung up over the last two years according to reports. Shivani Jha, Director of eSports Players Welfare Association (EPWA) and lawyer also took to Twitter to express her concerns regarding the bill.

She posted, “The bill as it is currently drafted includes risking money for a game of chance or skill in the ambit of wagering, and registration fee payable at times for certain games must not be construed as a risk. At the same time, there are comments from [legislative] assembly members that their intent is not to ban skill games, the wording of the bill has led to this lack of clarity. This will heavily impact the sports tech industry which includes gamers, developers, and publishers. India has around 600 gaming start-ups per annum and the industry India is worth Rs 10,000 crore as per government data.”

Recently CEO of Nazara Technologies that owns NODWIN (an Esports gaming company) Manish Agarwal, in an interview given to ET NOW stressed that after these drastic moves by the southern states, the difference between a game of chance and a game of skill will emerge, ultimately leading to clarity in the policy enabling framework.

“Our athletes have a very strong chance of winning medals. I think all those positive things will come into play in the coming time and we will have national esports championships and all of this will play well in creating a positive perception around gaming,” he added.

With the gaming sector eagerly seeking to understand the implications of the bill, it will be interesting to see how the government will allay these apprehensions.