Only gaming platforms offering or planning to offer real money games, or online games notified under India’s gaming rules, can be granted membership to Self-Regulatory Bodies (SRB) overseeing the industry, suggests the All India Gaming Federation’s (AIGF) model charter for SRBs. The SRB should also take no longer than three months to approve or reject the verification of a member’s online game.
Viewed by MediaNama, the charter suggests how SRBs can verify online games, fairly address consumer complaints, and protect players from financial and psychological harm.
“Since there is little academic or policy research on what a model charter may look like, we believe holistic research in this aspect is the need of the hour,” said the Federation’s press release. “The key idea is that any charter for all SRBs should, firstly, cover all the obligations in the IT Rules [through which the gaming rules have been brought], secondly, it should also go a step ahead and reflect broad international best practices and finally, should keep user protection as the main focus.”
The model charter has been circulated with civil society, lawyers, mental health experts, player welfare representatives, and the gaming industry for comments, noted the press release.
No SRBs have been registered since the gaming rules were notified in April—the government will verify online games until one is formed, India’s Minister of State for IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar recently claimed.
STAY ON TOP OF TECH POLICY: Our daily newsletter with top stories from MediaNama and around the world, delivered to your inbox before 9 AM. Click here to sign up today!
How does the verification of an online game work?
- Process: The SRB will prescribe the verification mechanism and follow its timelines—which should involve both qualitative and quantitative elements. The SRB should try to approve or reject applications as quickly as possible, and within no longer than three months. If an application is rejected, the reason should be communicated to the relevant member.
- Outcomes: The SRB will issue a prominent and visible verification mark for each permissible online game it approves. Verification certificates for online games should include a unique identifier. The certificate should be prominently published on the platforms where the game is offered. Members will also obtain “No Bot” and “Random Number Generator: certifications by the SRB.
- Longevity of verification: Verification of a game is contingent on the game being continuously compliant with relevant laws and the charter. A member will be given the reasonable opportunity to be heard before their game’s verification is suspended or revoked.
- Transparency: The SRB should upload an updated list of verified games, present and former members, the validity of verification, and details of suspended or revoked games or members on its website.
- Restrictions: Members should ensure that geographical limitations are implemented while offering online games as per prevailing applicable laws. Also, real money games shouldn’t be offered or targeted to people who haven’t achieved the age of majority and cannot enter into a contract.
How does applying to the SRB work?
- Criteria: Only members that offer or plan to offer real money or online games notified under the IT Rules, 2021, can be offered membership. Applicant platforms should identify themselves as the “offeror” of their games and prominently display the same on their platforms. They should also have a physical address in India and operate in compliance with India’s laws.
- Process: Granting membership depends on providing the relevant information prescribed by the SRB as part of its application process. Membership will be granted for one year, upon paying the application fees. It can be renewed at the end of this period.
- Suspension of membership: After giving a gaming platform a reasonable opportunity to be heard, the SRB reserves the right to suspend or revoke their membership (or take other action) for breaching the Charter’s provisions or applicable laws. Once this happens, the verification of the online games they once offered will be withdrawn, revoked, or suspended. This status should be reflected on the SRB’s platforms as well.
Which games can’t be offered by member platforms?
- No to gambling: Real money games in the nature of games of chance (these are typically understood to be gambling games). They also cannot offer online games involving wagering on any outcomes, or games that are not “permissible online games” as defined under the IT Rules, 2021.
- Respect India’s diverse gaming laws: Real money games that aren’t permitted under India’s applicable laws. They should also abide by the conditions of applicable State and Central laws, including provisions on licensing and approval mechanisms.
What responsible gaming measures should member platforms follow?
- Play fairly: The member platform’s personnel shouldn’t play games against other users on the member platform unless prescribed by the SRB’s Charter. In the same vein, the member shouldn’t preferentially disclose techniques, advice, or insights relevant to the game to users.
- Implement user safeguards: Members should publish and implement their responsible gaming policies. Overall members should endeavour to protect users from harm—including harms against children. Tools to safeguard users can include communicating warning messages during extra long game sessions, and allowing users to set limits for time and money spent on the platform. Parental access controls and age-rating mechanisms for games can help safeguard child players.
How would grievance redressal work?
- For users and the state: Members should implement a grievance redressal mechanism—the user complaining will be assigned a unique and trackable ticket for each complaint. The system should be safeguarded to prevent misuse.
- Members should appoint Grievance Officers who are Indian residents to deal with the complaints. They should inform the complainant about the reasons for the action taken on their complaint.
- Grievance Officers should also respond to government or judicial orders relating to breaches of the Charter or other applicable laws. Chief Compliance Officers, also Indian residents, should be appointed by each member to ensure compliance with the IT Act and delegate rules—they’ll be liable for non-compliance with due diligence laws relating to third-party content. Each member should also appoint a nodal contact person, an employee of the platform, to coordinate 24×7 with law enforcement agencies on their orders. Lawful information disclosure orders should be complied with within the timelines prescribed by the law.
- For member platforms: SRBs should set up a grievance redressal mechanism to evaluate member grievances on the verification of their online games. An appointed Grievance Officer will be responsible for resolving disputes. Grievance redressal will follow the principles of natural justice. The grievance redressal procedure and Grievance Officer contact details will be prominently displayed on the website.
- If the grievance isn’t resolved within prescribed timelines, then the member platform can approach the Grievance Appellate Committee (GAC), established under the IT Rules, 2021, for relief. The SRB and its members will abide by all GAC recommendations and will upload reports on their compliance with its orders on their websites.
How should member platforms responsibly advertise online games?
- Advertising campaigns should maintain a high ethical standard: In particular, real money games should not be targeted at users below the age of 18. In general, members should follow the SRB’s advertising standards as well as the Advertising Standards Council of India’s.
- Don’t advertise illegal games: Members also shouldn’t execute ad (or surrogate ad) campaigns promoting non-permissible online games or platforms hosting them. On the flip side, members should publish the SRB’s verification mark on advertising material of verified real money games.
How should member platforms ensure financial integrity?
- Handle money responsibly: Member platforms shouldn’t use player funds for anything other than settling winnings—and they should use escrow accounts to do that. They should also implement measures that secure user funds.
- Preventing fraud: Users’ identities should be verified following KYC processes similar to the Reserve Bank of India’s. Members should also implement fraud and money laundering prevention measures on their online games.
- Other obligations: Members should dispense tax-related obligations towards their users as per relevant laws. Also, members shouldn’t finance users to play online games either by credit, or by enabling third-party financing.
How should member platforms ensure transparent operations?
- Platforms should prominently publish policies: The platform’s terms and conditions, the rules and terms and conditions of the online games it offers, any applicable fees and charges, policies for withdrawing or refunding deposits made with the expectation of earning winnings, and how winners and winning amounts are determined. They should also publish the SRB Charter and its online game verification requirements, the platform’s physical address, KYC procedures to verify player identities and measures taken to protect user deposits in permissible real money games.
- All user policies should be published in English or any language listed in the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution. Any changes to the policies should be notified to users and the SRB within 24 hours of coming into effect.
- At least once a year, users should be informed of the consequences of non-compliance with user policies, as well as the platform’s right to terminate their access to the platform or remove non-compliant information.
Spilling the beans: what should member platforms disclose to the SRB and when?
- Court orders, or State or Central directions relating to an online game offered by the member platform. This includes directions requiring the member to shut down a verified online game.
- Bankruptcy petitions filed against the member in court, and insolvency procedures involving the member.
- The member’s failure to pay users for over 24 hours, and users’ inability to access their funds for longer than a specified period.
- When information provided by the member during its application or game verification process changes.
What other due diligence measures should platforms follow?
- Abide by Ministry rules: The SRB and its members will follow all orders, notices, and directions issued by the “Nodal Ministry”—that is the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. This includes directions to furnish information, as well as rectifying SRB game verifications that don’t conform with the IT Rules, 2021.
- Follow three general principles: They should act in good faith and without any conflict of interest with the SRB. They should also speedily implement amendments to the Charter, or as per time frames under “applicable regulations”. They should also observe the “highest degree” of professionalism, integrity, and ethical conduct while following the Charter.
- Prevent dissemination of banned content: Members should make reasonable efforts to prevent the dissemination of content banned under Rule 3(1)(b) of the IT Rules, 2021. They should also ensure takedowns of objectionable content within timelines prescribed by law. They should preserve information on content takedowns and user registration (or withdrawal/cancellation) for 180 days after the act.
- Ensure information security: Members should develop mechanisms that ensure compliance with user policies and information security practices as prescribed by India’s laws. If a platform suffers an information security breach, they should report it to public authorities.
Does self-regulation imply unbiased regulation?
Speaking at a MediaNama event earlier this year, lawyer Jay Sayta remained unconvinced about whether SRBs, which may inevitably be funded by wealthy and established gaming companies, can truly regulate gaming companies independently. “When a body is a caged parrot, how does it expect to hold its masters accountable?” Sayta asked. “How do we solve this inherent contradiction between funding and the structure of the body [which the rules haven’t solved for]?”
Responding to Sayta, Koan Advisory’s Vivan Sharan suggested one way of getting around this potential for bias—specific bodies could possibly certify self-regulatory bodies as kosher, in that they truly operate at an “arm’s distance” from their members. “I don’t know of bodies in India capable of doing this, so offshoring [this task] is a distinct possibility,” Sharan said.
An audience member added that presuming the worst may be unfair to the industry. “This is an industry that went to the government and asked for this regulatory system,” they argued. “There is an incentive to regulate properly because the option of de-recognition [of the SRB by the government] also exists [within the gaming rules]. There are a lot of positive incentives with the current framework. Why are we looking at these bodies as if they’ll have all these negative consequences?”
This post is released under a CC-BY-SA 4.0 license. Please feel free to republish on your site, with attribution and a link. Adaptation and rewriting, though allowed, should be true to the original.
- IT Ministry Notifies Online Gaming Rules: What’s Changed?
- How Will India’s Proposed Self-Regulators Protect Online Gamers And Ensure Responsible Gaming?
- How Should Self-Regulation Of The Online Gaming Industry Be Designed?
- “How Will A Caged Parrot Hold Its Masters Accountable?”: Self-Regulation In India’s Gaming Industry #NAMA