Roland Landers, CEO of the All India Gaming Federation (AIGF), told the New Indian Express that government regulation of online real-money games will help the businesses that offer them to grow. “When we have regulation that governs different forms of online gaming, the grey market and its operators will eventually go out of circulation. We hope we can achieve this in the next 24 months,” he told the newspaper, adding that until then, self-regulation is the best course of action. AIGF is a not-for-profit organisation that deals only with online real-money games, such as fantasy leagues, poker and competitive eSports games. Before the Lok Sabha elections, it had approached members of the BJP’s and Congress’s manifesto committees and suggested that they include legalisation and regulation of online gaming in their manifestos. Regulation of gaming is of the BJP or the Congress manifesto, even though senior Congress leader Dr Shashi Tharoor has proposed a private member’s bill to regulate online gaming (more on this below).

Laws around gaming in India

Under the Constitution, gaming is a state subject but AIGF says the laws that govern it are archaic. It says there is a strong need for a central regulatory framework to regulate the online gaming industry.

  • The ‘gaming’ industry comprises two verticals – gambling and skill-based games. Under most Indian laws, gambling activities are referred to as ‘gaming’.
  • Though the Constitution gives states the power to make laws about gambling and betting, there is no clarity about online gaming.
  • Most states issue licenses to online gaming companies in accordance with rules on ‘Games of Skill’ under the Public Gambling Act, 1867, another archaic law that very few states have adopted.
  • Sikkim and Nagaland have specific statutes about online gambling. Both allow companies wishing to provide online gambling services within the state to apply for a license. Nagaland has expressly allowed operators to offer fantasy games as well.

Shashi Tharoor’s bill to regulate online gaming

It may be noted that on December 28, 2018, Thiruvananthapuram MP and senior Congress leader Dr Shashi Tharoor had introduced a private member’s bill, the Sports (Online Gaming & Prevention of Fraud) Bill, 2018 in the Lok Sabha. The bill aims are to maintain the integrity of sports in India by preventing and penalizing fraud, and to regulate online gaming. It is to a large extent based on the Law Commission of India’s 276th report, which recommended that Parliament pass a law to regulate gambling and betting, either using its powers to regulate media and electronic communication, or pass a model law for states to adopt.

Tharoor told MediaNama in January that the bill sought to protect the integrity of sports by dealing with issues of sports fraud, while simultaneously regulating the online market. He said, “Sports betting is a state subject, but online sports gaming comes under the jurisdiction of the Parliament. Therefore, my bill deals with the twin issues of sports fraud as well as online sports gaming.” He said it was important to regulate online gaming in India because this could help increase state’s revenues and weed out black money.