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RTI: Union government considering “uniform approach” to online gambling regulation

The IT Minister’s statement was in response to a letter written by the Andhra Pradesh CM requesting the government to ban online gambling sites due to concerns of addiction and suicide. 

You’re reading it here first: The union government is considering a “uniform approach” to regulating online gambling and real money gaming, according to a letter by the Minister of Electronics & Information Technology obtained by MediaNama. In the letter, written to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said that “The subject of “betting and gambling” falls under the jurisdiction of the State Governments under Entries 34 and 62 of List II of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India,” but that “the Government is cognizant of the issues arising because of different legislations in different States in the area of regulation of online gaming and the matter is under consideration to have a uniform approach on this matter.”

This acknowledgement — that the government is considering a centralised approach to regulating gambling and betting sites — is significant. While states have been changing their local gambling laws to regulate (or outlaw) online gambling and sites, the betting and gambling industry has been obtaining court orders (like the one issued by Madras High Court) that have made it difficult for states to restrict gambling and betting activities that require some skill. The Prime Minister’s Office has shown interest in the issue, indicating that there could be movement on this front. It’s not clear what action the government would decide on — its actions could range from a “model law” that states could choose to emulate, to a constitutional amendment that would give it more powers to regulate online gaming.

‘IT Rules have anti-gambling provisions’

Vaishnaw was responding to an October 2020 letter written by Reddy to then-IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, requesting the central government to ban online betting and gambling sites in Andhra Pradesh. Vaishnaw, whose response is dated August 3, said that while he understood Reddy’s concerns — the CM had linked these platforms to “Suicides due to losing money, severe addiction and consequent violent behaviour” — blocking could only be performed by the central government “in the interest of Sovereignty and Integrity of India, Defence of India, Security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above”.

Reddy had argued that the law passed by Andhra Pradesh government to regulate such platforms had made even promoting or facilitating gambling activities illegal and that Internet Service Providers could be said to be facilitating gambling by allowing access to these sites. “The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 notified under section 79 of the Act require the intermediaries to observe due diligence by informing not to publish information encouraging money laundering or gambling and the notice can be issued by the Appropriate Govt. / its agency,” Vaishnaw replied. ISPs fall under the definition of intermediaries.

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The Andhra Pradesh Gaming (Amendment) Act, 2020 criminalised indulging in gambling to the extent of a cognisable offence, with players potentially facing six months of prison time, and organisers facing one year. Fantasy league games were not under the ban’s ambit, but games like rummy and poker were. Real-money gaming platform operators — it’s not clear which ones — in November 2020 approached the Andhra Pradesh High Court to challenge the order, the New Indian Express had reported, and are being represented by advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi. Hearings in this case are ongoing.

Full letter

What follows is the entire text of the response by IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s letter.

03 AUG 2021

Dear Shri Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy Ji,

Kindly refer to your D.O. No. 70/CM/PRL dated 27.10.2020, addressed to my predecessor, requesting for banning online games, online gambling and online betting sites.

At the outset, I appreciate the concerns raised by you. The subject of “betting and gambling” falls under the jurisdiction of the State Governments under Entries 34 and 62 of List II of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India. States, including Andhra Pradesh, have enacted their own legislation to regulate betting and gambling activities.

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As regards blocking of sites/apps, the Information Technology Act 2000, provides for blocking of information for public access only under specific conditions, i.e. in the interest of Sovereignty and Integrity of India, Defence of India, Security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above. State of Andhra Pradesh has already nominated a Nodal Officer who has been working with the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY) on 69A based blocking. In addition, the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 notified under section 79 of the Act require the intermediaries to observe due diligence by informing not to publish information encouraging money laundering or gambling and the notice can be issued by the Appropriate Govt. / its agency.

Further, the Government is cognizant of the issues arising because of different legislations in different States in the area of regulation of online gaming and the matter is under consideration to have a uniform approach on this matter.

With regards,

Yours sincerely,

[signed]

(Ashwini Vaishnaw)

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