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PIL filed against online betting, gaming websites and fantasy sports in Delhi HC: report

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been filed in the Delhi High Court urging the IT Ministry and the RBI “to bring illegal and illicit online gambling/betting/wagering/gaming to an end” by Avinash Mehrotra, a social activist and chartered accountant, according to a report by Glaws. The petitioner, according to the report, calls online gambling a “rising menace that has ruined the lives and financial security of several persons”, and goes on to add that a lot of these online gambling websites motivate people to “part with their hard earned money on games of chance such as poker, teenpatti, sports betting, and election betting”. Glaws reported that Mehrotra has exclusively named a number of online gambling websites like Betway, BetRally India, 1xBet, Royal Panda, Dafabet and domestic poker websites such as Adda52, PokerStars.in and Khelo365.

“These websites seem to encourage the horrible habit of gambling amongst youngsters, and are doing so solely with a view of making large amounts of profits at the cost of these unsuspecting citizens of our great nation,” the report quotes from Mehrotra’s petition.

Bills that support, oppose, and call for legalisation of online gambling in India

The report states that the petition is aimed directly at the Nagaland Prohibition of Gambling and Promotion and Regulation of Online Games of Skill Act which was introduced in 2015 and signed into law by the governor a year later. This bill gives authority to the state government to allow for “Games of skill” to be allowed and regulated on an online platform. Online games like rummy and poker, strategy games, and virtual sports (cricket, football, racing games) fall in the ambit of “games of skills” as per the definition adopted by the Nagaland assembly. These will be allowed in the state of Nagaland and applicable in territories in India where games of skill are permitted. States like Kerala, Jammu & Kashmir, Bihar, Jharkhand, etc., have enacted their own laws on ‘Betting and Gambling’, following, in a way, the model of the Public Gambling Act, 1867, and prohibiting gambling and keeping of common gaming houses, while making an exception for “games of skill”.

Following the passing of the bill though, the state of Telangana passed The Telangana Gaming (Amendment) Act, 2017, which amended the Telangana Gaming Act, 1974. The bill was passed with the objective of implementing “the policy of zero tolerance against gambling which has serious impact on the financial status and well-being of the common public”. This bill made Telangana one of the handful of Indian states where any form of online gambling is prohibited by law.

In 2019, Congress MP, Shashi Tharoor introduced a private member bill in the Lok Sabha, called The Sports (Online Gaming and Prevention of Fraud) Bill, 2018 to “establish an effective regime to maintain the integrity of sports in India by preventing and penalising sports fraud, regulation of online sports gaming…” The bill looked to “protect the integrity of sports by dealing with issues of sports fraud, while regulating the online market at the same time,” he told MediaNama. A major reason behind the introduction of this bill, according to Tharoor, was the lack of an adequate “statue” in India which could criminalise sports fraud and manipulation. The judgement on the 2013 IPL match fixing allegations pointed that the limitations of the pre existing law. At the time of writing this story, the bill hasn’t been ratified in the lower house of the Parliament.

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The rise and rise of online gambling in India

One of the major reasons that Tharoor wants The Sports (Online Gaming and Prevention of Fraud) Bill, 2018 is because it can generate a lot of revenue for states. According to the 276th Report of the Law Commission of India, pointed out that the estimated market size of online gaming in India was around $360 million and go easily go up to $1 billion by the end of 2021. Apart from that, the report also found that a number of different firms, like Cobox and Nazara, were willing to invest huge sums of money, running into their millions, to tap into the potential of the online gaming market in India.

We tried establishing a contact with the petitioner, Avinash Mehrotra, to verify all the claims made by Glaws in its report, but couldn’t through. If anyone can get us in touch with Mehrotra, contact us at soumyarendra@medianama.com.

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