Recent debates over States’ rights to ban games for money – both online and offline – often overlook a basic distinction. Games of skill are legitimate according to India’s Constitution, both as a business and a hobby. Inevitably, the Centre needs to guide States in setting up a well-regulated gaming market if this booming tech industry is to have a future in the Union.
Daily Practice Based on Court Rulings
Consumption habits have changed drastically over the past few years, with more than half of all Indians now owning a mobile phone. Covid-induced lockdowns only reminded us how much we have gotten used to buying products and services online, getting work done, and chasing away boredom with some casual gaming.
The industry gradually came under the spotlight when authorities realized how important online games have become in everyone’s daily habits. Playing for real money, tokens, or in-app prize pools, people connect to friends and colleagues or simply refine their skills, although some have made a living out of online gaming as well.
The fact of the matter is that skill games have always been a legitimate business occupation, ever since the Supreme Court declared in 1968 that games like rummy and bridge entail mostly skill and cannot be banned on a Central or State level.
While some of the best online roulette India can access is found on offshore sites and apps, traditional skill games for money like poker or fantasy sports are widely practiced and protected under Article 19. Thousands of players supplement their income or simply enjoy it as legitimate paid entertainment. The bigger issue is banning desi gaming companies that have invested years and resources in fighting off foreign competition.
In 1996, the Supreme Court had a similar decision on horse racing, applying the “predominance test” and upholding the legality of the industry. Most recently, in 2021, the Madras and Kerala High Courts ruled against blanket bans on online gaming for prizes. Judges in Kochi even went as far as to declare similar attempts “arbitrary, illegal and violating fundamental rights”, again based on Constitutional guarantees.
Regulation Is the Way Out
Fighting the stigma of illegal gambling is not easy for even established online gaming companies. Industry research has proven the efficiency of Central-level regulation for gaming platforms but politicians are reluctant to admit that logic trumps moral judgment in such cases.
Weighing the benefits of a license-based system against the current uncontrolled access to offshore gambling sites is not difficult. Desi companies and locally registered operators would have to provide much better customer support, reliable payments, tech standards, and player protection than users currently might find out there. Gaming companies are eager to prove their worth in a mature and regulated market akin to European, American, or Australian ones.
More importantly, direct oversight on the online gaming scene will provide more transparency for taxation purposes and transform problem gaming risks into opportunities for education and awareness programs. An efficiently controlled market can bring employment, public funds, and much better protection to minors and vulnerable players, particularly through modern digital tools and monitoring systems.
In an age when tech startups are a crucial source of added value and economic growth – and India is showing its muscles on the global scene – ignoring the importance of the Union digital gaming businesses does not seem like a sound idea. Placing strict limitations and bans on their domestic operations might just spell the end for hundreds of firms and direct millions of desi players to foreign competition.