Karnataka passes bill to ban online gambling

Karnataka’s legislative assembly on Tuesday passed the Karnataka Police (Amendment) Bill, 2021 to ban all forms of online gaming for stakes in the state. The bill tabled on 17 September advocates maximum imprisonment of three years and a penalty up to Rs 1 lakh for those indulging in online gaming or betting in the state.

The Karnataka Police (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was introduced by Home Minister Araga Jnanendra and was passed amid the opposition’s criticism of police’s capabilities in combating new forms of gambling – including online betting on sports, online gaming and poker. The home minister said that the new law was important since it has been exceedingly difficult for the police to tackle gambling and betting in the context of a recent order from a bench of the state high court at Dharwad – which has prevented the police from carrying out raids on gambling dens.

“There is a lot of gambling happening using electronic devices and this has to be controlled,” the home minister told the legislative assembly while introducing the new bill.

Despite Supreme Court’s judgement, southern states including Tamil Nadu have attempted to ban skill-based online games. The Tamil Nadu High Court last month quashed the Tamil Nadu law which prohibited online games of skill, as unconstitutional. The Court clarified that any restriction on games of skills, whether online or offline needs to be narrow, and the state should try and regulate, instead of a ban.

The Court also criticised State government for passing the law as a populist measure in the lead-up to state elections, without following the established law. In a letter addressed to Basavaraj Bommai, the Chief Minister of Karnataka, the National Secretary General of CAIT, Praveen Khandelwal has stated: “Unfortunately, the Karnataka bill does not distinguish between a game of skill and a game of chance. Game of chance is pure gambling and should be rightfully banned. However, by including games of skill in the ambit of the bill, it has not only gone against established jurisprudence but threatens the thriving Indian gaming startup sector.   

The amended law prescribes a three-year jail term for gambling instead of one year and a fine of up to Rs one lakh. The law exempts only bets on horse races from the purview of gambling.