Gaming Spike Makes The Need of Regulation Even More Urgent: The online gaming market in India has been growing at a pace of roughly 30 percent per year, and with its massive user base of around 400 million people it has become the fastest growing segment of the country’s media and entertainment industry. However, the rapid boom of online gaming which is occurring in an unregulated environment has its negative sides and this raises concerns about the unchecked spread of problem gambling in India.
As per estimates by the All India Gaming Federation (AIGF), the size of the country’s online gaming market has already touched a value of around $1 billion and the industry is projected to generate at least 50,000 new job opportunities by 2025. According to data from the E-Gaming Federation of India (EGF), around 80 percent of this market is taken up by real money games, ranging from online fantasy sports to instant withdrawal casino games.
The popularity of traditional Indian card games is being matched by the growing traction of visually attractive and fast-paced games like Crazy Time. Games featuring a live dealer offer immersive user experience similar to walking on a real-life casino floor and have caught the attention of desi gamers.
Regardless of the positive effects for the economy and employment, with the millions of Indians attracted to easily accessible real money games on their smartphones, an increasing occurrence of gaming addictions, excessive losses of money and sinking into debt, and other problem gambling issues is making the need of a comprehensive regulatory framework aimed at curbing such societal risks even more urgent.
One of the many problem gambling examples is the case of Faisal Maqbool, a 31-year old construction project coordinator, who lost ₹4 lakh ($5,000) within the course of five months last year playing a multiplayer card game online where the players have to place a bet every time the cards are dealt.
In the beginning, Maqbool was wagering amounts like ₹500 or ₹1,000, but his bets started increasing and soon he was losing 70 percent of his monthly income on online games and borrowing money from friends. “You keep playing because you want to win back the money you lost. But you keep losing,” Faisal explains. He stopped gaming months ago, but it is still difficult for him to resist the temptation to bet again.
The Solution: From Blanket Bans to Regulations Based on the World’s Best Practices
Indian state- and central-level policy makers and various industry stakeholders recommend or try different approaches to solving the issue with the potential harms and societal costs associated with online gaming and gambling. Some of the proposed cures are as simple as imposing a full ban on all gaming, others go for a greater differentiation between skill and chance gaming, while an increasing number of voices see the solution in a comprehensive regulatory framework based on global best practices in gaming legislation.
A number of states including Telangana, Odisha, and Andhra Pradesh have enacted prohibitions on gaming which are still active, while the blanket bans adopted by Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu were struck down as unconstitutional by the respective High Courts. While some of these judgments are being appealed before the Supreme Court, industry experts question the ability of such bans to protect the public as they only damage the legitimate homegrown industry and open the door to illegal operators.
“Let’s assume that governments have the right intent. However, the question is are you solving the problem? If you ban this, what ability do you have to enforce it? A classic case in point is when it was banned in Telangana in 2017, when the entire industry then was about ₹400 crore. In 2020, a Chinese started 60 gambling apps that are illegal there in a ₹2,000 crore scam. This happened despite the ban in existence for three years. What did the government manage to do?” says EGF CEO Sameer Barde.
According to AIGF, it would suffice for India to differentiate between games of skill and gambling and between contest entry fees and bets. “When you look at Cricket, the toss in Cricket is a game of chance. But the rest of the game is entirely skill,” AIGF CEO Roland Landers explains the difference.
Such an approach could preserve the potential of the Indian online skill gaming industry, but would not be any different from the blanket bans when it comes to protecting the public from ill-faith and fraudulent operators or problem gambling risks.
Earlier this year, the Central Government set up an inter-ministerial panel and mandated it to devise a broad framework of laws to regulate online gaming activities and to determine a nodal ministry which is to oversee the functioning of the sector. For the elaboration of its recommendations, the taskforce is to consult experts and industry stakeholders, as well as to examine the world’s best practices in gaming regulation.
With the aim of this initiative being to catalyze innovation in the sector while protecting the gamer’s rights, privacy and safety, as recently expressed by the Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar, online gaming and gambling regulation stands as the most viable approach to control and avoid issues with problem gaming such as addictions and heavy losses of money, while promoting India as a global gaming superpower.