With the onset and fiery growth of gaming apps such as Dream11 (India’s first gaming unicorn) the age of fantasy league sports is well and truly upon us. With the Indian Premier League (IPL) around the corner, it is time for many to dust off their Dream11 accounts and start the new season in their fantasy league. Insults will be traded and the pride of all players are at stake as they pit themselves against other sports fans in pursuit of sporting glory and honour. However, despite their popularity, there have been certain criticisms of fantasy games including that they are opening the back door to sports betting in India, which is illegal.
What are Fantasy Sports?
Fantasy sports are usually mobile app-based games in which users select, build and act as managers of their own virtual teams. The results of the rounds are based on statistics, scores, achievements and the performance of real-life players. The winner is the player whose virtual team accumulates the greatest number of points across the rounds of the game. The game includes the following essential processes:
- Drafting: This is the process of selecting team players. Users are expected to consider the current form of the player, their relative worth as well as their strengths and weaknesses. Users are given access to real time statistics of the players performance from past matches, which has to be assessed in the light of factors such as age, statistical trends, injuries, the player’s statistics in various stadia and against different opponents and other material factors that will have a bearing on the player’s performance as a whole. Selection of the captain and vice-captain play a pivotal role as more points are garnered by them/
- Attribution of points: Points are attributed to each player inter alia on the basis of the real player’s selection and (in the case of cricket) number of runs scored, wickets taken, catches taken, stumping/ run outs cause, batting strike rate and bowling economy rate with additional bonus points for boundaries hit, maiden overs bowled and similar other laudable performance events.
- Payment of Fees and Distribution of Prize money: Each user is charged a fixed administrative fee for participation in each round. The entire administrative fee is collected and held by the league in trust of the game and upon announcement of the results is distributed in a transparent and objective manner on the basis of the final points tally.
Game of Chance v Game of Skill
The authenticity of fantasy sports and the resultant demarcation between games of chance and games of skill has often raised doubts. A game of skill can be characterised as any game or challenge in which the assigning component of the result is the judgment, aptitude or ability of the member in the challenge instead of pure chance. Such sort of games motivates the player to think, understand and break the game.
A game of chance is one in which the outcome cannot be foreseen according to your present action. Winning or losing in such games is based purely on ‘luck’ and the on the loss of other players playing against you which cannot be reasonably foreseen. While buckling down to parley of ‘skill’ element in fantasy sports games, legislators and Courts have espoused the ‘Dominant Factor Test’ or ‘Predominance Test’ approach.
One of the most celebrated fantasy league games in India is Dream11 which is the talk of the town whenever the IPL season begins. However, the validity of fantasy sports in India is contingent on the qualification of the game as a ‘game of skill’ or ‘game of chance’. In July 2018, the Law Commission of India Report N0.276 recommended that sports betting, where the outcome majorly depends upon the skill of the participants, should be legalised.
Previously the court have given orders declaring horse racing and card games such as rummy and poker are ‘games of skill’. The question of whether the fantasy game Dream 11 is a ‘game of skill’ was posed before the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Varun Gumber v Union Territory of Chandigarh and later the Bombay High Court. Dream 11 argued that they were a ‘game of skill’ as:
- Players are required to deploy considerable skill, judgment and discretion while drafting their fantasy team.
- Players are required to study the rules of the game and the point system deployed by the fantasy operator
- Success arises out of users’ exercise, superior knowledge, judgment and attention.
The primary laws that govern gambling in India are the archaic Public Gambling Act, 1867 and the Prize Competition Act, 1955. Both these laws fail to define or even envisage ‘Fantasy Sports’. At this point of time, the Varun Gumber case sets down all the guidelines regarding fantasy sports. The decision sets a blanket protection for all fantasy league sports games functional in the market based on judgment.
However, are fantasy games really ‘games of skill’? Are players really displaying a skill that can be quantified? Or are fantasy sports more a ‘game of chance’? Gambling requires there to be an exchange of money or valuable goods. This is satisfied in the case of Dream11 as the administrator takes a fee from the user to play and win points across rounds. Furthermore, at the time of payment of the fees the user cannot reasonably foresee that he is going to win or benefit in any way from the wager.
With the number of people playing fantasy games such as Dream11, the legality of these games need to be carefully considered. Perhaps specific rules should be developed to deal with fantasy sports overseen by an administrative body. With a high potential for development in the Indian market, foreign companies have looked carefully as investigating in the potentially vast market. However, the legal penumbra remains unclear and the interpretation of whether these games are games of skill or games of chance has been up for debate in courts.
Aanand is an undergraduate law student at the National Law University Odisha. He has a keen interest in sports, law and sports law.
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