21 Oct 2010

KBC Ghar Baithe Lakhpati Contest: Are the organisers committing a Criminal Offence?

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Just before the commercial break, Amitabh Bachchan the host of the famous T.V. show Kaun Banega Crorepati asks a Ghar baithe Lakhpati question where viewers have to answer a very simple question (a no brainer) and stand a chance to win One Lakh Rupees. Millions of people answer this very simple question by sending an SMS to the specified number and pay premium SMS rates after which a single winner is randomly selected through a computerised process Questions like this have become banal across India and one often comes across advertisements wherein one has to send an SMS (charging premium rates) to an extremely simple question to stand a chance to win a jackpot prize.

However the legality of these kinds of no-brainer prizes is in serious doubt.

Provisions and Punishment: It must be noted that under Section 294-A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) keeping of any office or place for drawing a lottery without the authorisation of the State Government is a criminal offence which may be punished with imprisonment up to six months and/or fine. In states where the above-mentioned Section is repealed, it may be in violation of State legislation’s [such as the Bombay Lotteries (Control and Tax) and Prize Competitions (Tax) Act, 1958] and similar in nature to the IPC in terms of offence and punishment.

What constitutes a lottery?: A lottery is a game of chance in which either the event of gain or loss of the absolute right to the prize or prizes by the persons concerned, is made wholly dependent upon the drawing or casting of lots. Thus a lottery is the distribution of prizes by lot or chance without the use of any skill. It is thus the staking of money depending upon a contingency or an uncertain event, which is to be tendered certain by drawing of a lot or by chance.

Have the organisers of KBC committed an offence? : Depends on the way the provisions are interpreted. The following elements are required for the KBC Ghar baithe Lakhpati competition to be construed as a lottery.

Skill: According to K.I. Vibhute an expert on the IPC, The fact that it (lotteries) involves a certain degree of skill does not make it any less a lottery, if the obtaining of a prize is determined more by chance than by skill. Thus it is apparent that the above-mentioned competition is almost entirely dependent on chance.

Staking of money: It may be noticed that the participants have to call a special number or send an SMS to a special number by paying extra charges, the proceeds of which are shared by the telephone companies and KBC. Hence the participants are certainly staking a small amount of money in anticipation of winning the prize, i.e. mutual gain or loss a key ingredient in determining whether a competition is a lottery.

Publication of proposal: KBC certainly publishes proposals and incites people to participate in the contest.

Drawing of lots: The winner is randomly selected by a computerised process. This can be described as drawing of lottery.

Authorisation of the government: There is no information to show the permission or authorisation of any State Government to allow KBC to conduct this competition.

It must be noted that Section 294-A of the IPC or State legislation’s may be interpreted in a different way to come to the conclusion that competitions involving minimal skills are not lotteries. In general the policy of the government indicates that people should be discouraged from indulging in games of chance and probability. However a clarification of the government on the legal position of such competitions will be helpful.

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