Indian gambling laws: does the industry demand regulation?


LAST UPDATED: March 16, 2021, 9:39 p.m.

Gambling has been a part of India’s history and culture for a long time. With mythical stories and legends that also hold strong references to gambling activities as well as contemporary traditions of playing cards for money during festivities, India is no stranger to the world of skill and chance.

However, the laws that address the gambling industry (that operates as a loosely kept secret) have mostly been unclear and confusing. Gambling being a matter of the state, each state government in India has its own laws and legislation concerning the activity. But most Indian states choose to stick by the principles of the Public Gambling Act of 1867.

Curiously, the British who originally was responsible for writing this Act and prohibiting physical gambling activities in India has since then allowed most forms of gambling, including online gaming, in the UK. In fact, the UK government makes an impressive profit by having legalized and regulated the online gambling industry.

Then why is India still influenced by the archaic laws left by our colonizers?

The Rise of Online Gambling

Since most state legislations talk about only prohibiting physical gaming houses, online gambling has existed in a legal grey area, operating openly and becoming a way for Indians to engage in betting activities without technically breaking the law.

And in recent times, the legalization of fantasy sports websites and apps such as Dream11 has paved the way for more such decisions in the near future.

Given the passion that most Indians have for the sport of cricket and the interest, they harbor in placing wagers during the IPL season, IPL betting sites have become more and more common in India. Additionally, the offerings of casino games, which remain out of reach for most Indians, have made these betting sites all the more popular.

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This steep rise in popularity of online gambling platforms was further motivated by the pandemic and the resulting lockdown. Stuck at home, with little else to do, real-money gaming apps became a huge relief for populations who have found an easy way to make some money while also being entertained.

A Multi-Million Dollar Industry

According to experts, the online gambling industry is making as much as $930 million annually, with a growth rate of 41% per year. With these astounding numbers, the Indian government can stand to earn millions of dollars in tax revenue if the industry were to be legalized and regulated.

Additionally, the regulation would also call for proper licensing laws, which would require foreign betting companies to obtain licenses as well as operate with Indian partners, generating an entirely new sector of jobs.

Last but not least, stricter laws and regulations would protect the users from any fraudulent betting platforms. The negative aspects of gambling, which include loss of wealth and addictions are also lesser in countries where gambling companies operate within a set of laws and regulations that ensure user rights.

So if it is impossible to enforce a blanket ban on online gambling in India, is it perhaps more prudent to embrace the industry and make the best of its opportunities?

Some Indian states like Sikkim have already taken a step in that direction. And many more Indian states might soon follow suit. With a market full of cheaper smartphones and even cheaper data packs, online gambling is not likely to be any less popular in the near future. Then maybe it is time to look elsewhere for a solution – is regulation the answer to the question of Indian gambling laws? It seems that only time will tell.

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