A division bench of the Rajasthan High Court in an order given last week, reiterated the earlier pronouncements of the Punjab & Haryana and Bombay High Courts that ruled fantasy sports to be games of skill and consequently falling outside the ambit of gambling/betting legislations.
The division bench comprising of Chief Justice Indrajit Mohanty and Justice Ashok Kumar Gaur after hearing arguments over several hearings and giving opportunity to the respondents to file replies and the petitioner to file a rejoinder, pronounced the order on 14th February, 2020 in the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by one Chandresh Sankla, a resident of Ajmer.
The petitioner in his PIL claimed that online fantasy sports website Dream11 was involved in betting activities and gambling activities and asked that the state government stop such activities, initiate criminal proceedings against the company and ensure that the crimes committed by Dream11 are not carried out anywhere across India.
Sankla in his petition impleaded the Home Secretary, Government of Rajasthan, State of Rajasthan as well as Dream11 founders Harsh Jain and Bhavit Sheth as respondents.
Justice Gaur, while speaking for the court in Chandresh Sankla v. State of Rajasthan & Others reproduced the relevant portion of the 2017 order of the Punjab & Haryana High Court Varun Gumber v. Union Territory of Chandigarh & Others wherein it was decided: “The respondent company’s website and success in Dream 11’s fantasy sports basically arises out of users exercise, superior knowledge, judgment and attention…. Equally so, before I conclude, I must express that gambling is not a trade and thus, is not protected by Article 19(1)(g) of Constitution of India and thus, the fantasy games of the respondent-company cannot said to be falling within the gambling activities as the same involves the substantial skills which is nothing but is a business activity”
The Court also extracted the relevant portion of the Bombay High Court’s judgment in Gurdeep Singh Sachar v. Union of India & Others which reiterated the conclusion of fantasy sports involving substantial degree of skill: “Only if the result of the game/contest is determined merely by chance or accident, any money put on stake with consciousness of risk and hope to gain, would be ‘gambling’ or ‘betting’. There is no merit in the submission that the result of their fantasy game/contest shall be considered as merely by chance or accident notwithstanding involvement of substantial skill.”
The Rajasthan High Court in its judgment also noted that both Gumber’s and Sachar’s Special Leave Petitions (SLPs) in the Supreme Court where dismissed.
It further noted that the Supreme Court while recently dismissing Sachar’s SLP as well as subsequent clarification application had noted that the issue of whether gambling is or is not involved in the Dream11 matter cannot be revisited by the Bombay High Court while hearing the review petition filed by the union government and that only the GST issue can be re-heard by the Bombay High Court.
The court ultimately while ultimately dismissing the petition concluded that ‘the issue of treating the game “Dream 11” as having any element of betting/gambling is no more res integra in view of the pronouncements by the Punjab and Haryana High Court and Bombay High Court and further the SLPs have also been dismissed against the orders of these High Courts.’