Serial petitioner Varun Gumber who had earlier filed multiple petitions and appeals claiming fantasy sports amount to betting and gambling and are not a game of skill has now filed an appeal against the recent decision of the Karnataka High Court in the case of the constitutional validity of the online gaming ban law. In 2017, the High Court of Punjab and Haryana dismissed his petition holding that fantasy games are predominantly based on skill, which was the first Indian verdict to rule fantasy sports to be a game predominantly based on skill.
His Special Leave Petition (SLP) against the decision of Punjab and Haryana High Court was also dismissed by the Supreme Court vide on 15th September 2017. Gumber's case has been relied on by the subsequent decisions of the Rajasthan and Bombay High Courts.
The High Court of Bombay, in the case of Gurdeep Singh Sachar v. Union of India, relied on the High Court of Punjab and Haryana decision in the Varun Gumber case. The Bombay High Court also observed that, unlike betting, winning or losing in fantasy sports was not dependent on any team winning or losing in the real world. The Union of India, the State of Maharashtra, Gurdeep Singh Sachar, and Varun Gumber who is not a party to the original proceedings filed an appeal before the Supreme Court against the Bombay High Court decision, which was duly dismissed by a Supreme Court bench comprising of then Chief Justice, Justice B. R. Gavai, and Justice Surya Kant.
The challenges filed by Gurdeep Singh Sachar and the Union of India were also jointly dismissed by the Supreme Court. However, based on the Maharashtra government’s appeal against Sachar’s judgment, a 3-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising of then CJI SA Bobde and Justices BR Gavai and Surya Kant stayed the operation of the Bombay High Court judgment on 6th March 2020. Further proceedings in the matter are currently pending.
In February 2020, the Rajasthan High Court in Chandresh Sankhla v. the State of Rajasthan, which again relied on the decisions of the High Court of Punjab & Haryana and Bombay and the dismissal of challenges against these decisions by the Supreme Court, held that the issue of the legitimacy of fantasy sports is no longer res integra and cannot be reopened.
Now, lawyer Gumber is back with an appeal against the Karnataka appeal. Considering the track record of Varun Gumber cases, critics of online fantasy sports argue that his cases in fact legitimised the format and are relied on by online fantasy games providers to seek favourable orders from various Courts. Notably, the Maharashtra government in its appeal in the Supreme Court has doubted Gumber and Sachar’s genuineness and claimed that there is a nexus between fantasy sports operator Dream11 and Gumber, wherein PILs are filed by some individuals only to be speedily dismissed.
Interestingly, Varun Gumber now says he has filed a review petition seeking a review of the order dated 15th September 2017 passed by the Supreme Court. In his petition before the Supreme Court against the decision of the Karnataka High Court, Gumber has urged the Court to hear the review petition together with the appeal. His petition at the time of writing has not been allotted any date.