Fundamental rights, loss of income – Who are petitioners in the Karnataka Gaming Ban case before the High Court

The controversial gaming ban is in the second month and a batch of petitions challenging the law are pending before the Karnataka High Court. Although the petitions were heard multiple times, no interim relief is given so far with the next date of hearing on November 18.

These petitions came just months after the landmark Madras High Court decision that struck down a similar amendment to the Tamil Nadu Gaming Act, 1930 and the Chennai City Police Act, 1888 that banned games for stakes. When the petitions were last listed, a total of 10 petitions were tagged with the main matter. From an initial listing before a single judge, the matter is now heard by a special bench headed by the Chief Justice.

So who are these petitioners before the Karnataka High Court?

The petitioners range from online gaming companies to self-regulatory industry body AIGF, a recreational club in Bengaluru, individuals who hold senior positions in gaming companies, and another set of individuals who claim to have lost livelihood due to the gaming ban:

All India Gaming Federation

All India Gaming Federation or AIGF is the apex self-regulatory body for Online Skill Gaming in India. AIGF is established as a society under the Societies Registration Act, 1860. AIGF had issued the Charter on Online Games of Skill to self-regulate all games of skill played online in pay-to-play formats. AIGF is often seen as a party to litigation on questions related to skill gaming.

AIGF was one of the respondents in a case filed praying directions to ban all forms of Online Gambling and Online Betting of any nature. This case was dismissed as infructuous by the High Court after the gaming ban law was notified on October 5. The association represents the interests of its members who are into online rummy, fantasy sports, rummy, casual games, and esports.

Considering it is an apex self-regulatory body for gaming in India, it came as no surprise when AIGF became the first entity to file a writ petition on the gaming ban law. The self-regulatory body has instructed senior counsel Aryaman Sundaram and Arvind Datar. The petitioner had included the State of Karnataka, Commissioner of Police (Bengaluru) as the respondents.

Mobile Premier League

Galactus Software Private Limited which operates under the brand-name Mobile Premier League (MPL) is another petitioner. MPL is an online gaming platform that offers 60+ games and allows users to play games online and win real cash. The Bengaluru based start-up was valued at US$ 2.3 billion in the latest funding round. The gaming unicorn instructed senior counsel DLN Rao. The respondents are the same as that of the AIGF petition.

Play Games 24/7 Private Limited

The company that operates RummyCircle, My11Circle is another petitioner. The company had instructed senior counsel Sajan Poovayya. The company included the State of Karnataka (through Chief Secretary, the department of Home, the department of law), and the Director-General of Police as the respondents.

Head Digital Works Private Limited

The operator of the online rummy portal a23.com is another petitioner. This company had earlier successful challenged a notification by the Kerala government banning online rummy. In the last hearing, Sajan Poovayya argued for A23.

Saroj Kumar Panigrahi

Saroj is an individual petitioner. He is the Vice President of My11Circle. He was also represented by senior counsel Sajan Poovayya in the last hearing. He included the State of Karnataka (through Chief Secretary, the department of Home, the department of law), and the Director-General of Police as the respondents.

Gameskraft Technologies Private Limited

The company operates gaming platforms RummyCulture, Rummytime, fantasy gaming portal Gamezy. This company was one of the petitioners before Madras High Court in a similar gaming ban case. The senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi appeared for GamesKraft. The company is recently embroiled in a tax controversy with the GST department raiding its office locations in Bengaluru.

Junglee Games Private Limited

Another gaming company in the fight is Junglee Games which is the main petitioner in the Madras High Court case. Junglee is also represented by senior counsel Sajan Poovayya.

Pacific Gaming Private Limited

This company operates poker gaming site PokerSaint and rummy platform GullyRummy is another petitioner.

Pramod Kumar, Pratab Rajagopal, Ravi Kiran E

This group of aggrieved online players, all residents of Bengaluru have approached the Karnataka High Court for relief citing they have lost their livelihood due to the gaming ban.

Pramod Kumar, who has been professionally playing and competing at online Fantasy Games since 2016 said, “I have spent a considerable time and money honing my skills in fantasy sports. Having practiced diligently over the last five years, I now earn a major part of my income from fantasy sports,” as first reported by IANS.

Pratab Rajgopal, a collection executive, had started playing since May 2021 and since then used his knowledge of sports and team picking skill to supplement his meagre income. Ravikiran, who works in a bank, had also become quite adept in fantasy sports after months of practice. Both were looking forward to playing fantasy sports when the sudden ban was introduced in Karnataka. According to the PIL, “The legislation has effectively put a complete halt on the conduct of ‘games of skill’ in the State of Karnataka thereby depriving the Petitioners and other similarly placed individuals from earning their money through application of their skills and expertise,” read the petition as per a report on the Economic Times.

Pool N Club

The petitioner is an association registered under the Karnataka Societies Registration Act, 1960 engaged in conducting sports and other cultural activities such as chess, carom, fantastic- III, table tennis, carom, cards(rummy) etc. The association is located in Cunningham Road, Bengaluru. In the year 2013, the association successfully challenged the Bengaluru police direction to obtain a license either under the Karnataka Police Act or under the provisions of Licensing and Controlling of Places of Public Amusement Order, 2002 for conducting recreational activities.

Pavan Nanda:

Another individual in the batch of petitions, little is available about his background. However, entrepreneur Paavan Nanda is the CEO and Co-founder of WinZO Games, a vernacular real money entertainment platform. It is not clear if both the persons are one and the same.