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Leash on online lottery raids
- Moved by owners, courts stall govt drive

Calcutta, March 2: The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government suffered a jolt after Calcutta High Court, in conformity with a directive of the Supreme Court, observed that police had no authority to continue its drive against online lotteries.

The state government, particularly finance minister Asim Dasgupta, had gone after online lottery dealers, saying they were conducting draws every day and sometimes every hour in contravention to the Lottery Regulations Act, 1998. Dasgupta had also accused the dealers of not paying the government a portion of the revenue earned from the tickets.

'This (high) court is adjourning the case relating to online lottery since the matter is now pending with the Supreme Court,' a division bench of Justices Ashok Kumar Ganguly and Tapan Kumar Dutt said.

In an interim order on February 28, the Supreme Court had set aside the high court's earlier ruling backing the police in its drive against the retail operators of online lotteries in the state.

After receiving the directive, the division bench today said the order passed by them on February 1 would not be given effect. It had ruled that the state had the authority 'to interfere with a central act (Lottery Regulations Act, 1998) when there arises the question of maintaining law and order'.

The bench had also said the police had the authority to seize the articles and documents of the establishments running the online lottery business.

After Dasgupta voiced his grievance, the director of state lottery had filed a case against the 'errant' operators. On the basis of the case, police launched massive raids on retail outlets of the online lotteries. More than a hundred people were arrested and computers, documents and other articles were seized from the outlets.

According to a government study, more than 10,000 people are involved in the online lottery business across Bengal. There are more than 500 retail outlets selling the tickets.

The high court ruled in favour of the state when the director of Sikkim Lotteries filed a case challenging the state drive.

Later, owners of some of the online lotteries moved a special leave petition before the Supreme Court, questioning the validity of the high court's order. The apex court passed an interim order, staying the directive backing the police raids.

Former Bengal chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Roy and former advocate general of Tripura Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, counsels for the owners of the online lotteries, today moved the same division bench of Calcutta High Court that had passed the directive and produced the Supreme Court's order.

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