Over the past two to three years, many states in India passed laws banning online games, primarily because children and young adults were losing money and being pushed to suicide. These laws have been challenged in courts by gaming companies.
Telangana was the first state to promulgate an official ban on online gambling and betting in 2017. Following suit in 2020, Andhra Pradesh banned online gaming.
In the same year, Tamil Nadu also amended laws to ban online gaming, but the Madras High Court struck down the Act, and the state government moved the Supreme Court against it.
Similarly, in 2021, the ban on online rummy in Kerala was lifted by the Kerala high court, stating that it is "a game of skill."
Karnataka's legislation also banned betting and wagering in online games in October 2021. But following a case filed against it, the Karnataka high court put a stay on the new law.
Last week, after an 11-year-old boy allegedly died by suicide after losing Rs 6,000 in an online game in Bhopal, the state home minister said the Madhya Pradesh government would soon introduce legislation to ban online games.
These states have taken the drastic step of banning online games to prevent addiction, debt and suicide. However, we have seen that despite the ban on games like PUBG and Tik Tok, these games continue to have users in India.
DEVELOPMENTS IN TAMILNADU
The erstwhile All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government under former chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami amended a 90-year law banning online games in November 2020.
Within a few months, the amendment was challenged by the gaming company Junglee Games India in the Madras High Court, and in August 2021, the first bench of the court overturned the ban.
The court said that the amendment is "so unequivocally audacious that it rules out any element of choice that an individual may exercise."
In December 2021, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led (DMK) government moved the Supreme Court against the Madras High Court order. The government argued that gambling addiction is the reason behind many crimes, suicides and social ruin and cited larger public interest to restore the ban on online real money games.
Political parties have urged the govt to take steps to contain online gaming, and chief minister MK Stalin has said he will bring an end to online gaming.
However, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry's (FICCI) Gaming Committee (FGC) has urged the Tamil Nadu government to adopt an enabling gaming policy protecting players while ensuring a secure and responsible gaming environment.
GAME OR GAMBLE?
There is a lot of confusion between gaming and gambling concerning the online space.
Bharatiya Janata Party member Sushil Kumar Modi, who urged the government to come up with a "comprehensive framework" to regulate online gaming during the winter session of the Parliament, conflated legal online gaming with illegal betting and gambling.
Cyber Lawyer Karthikeyan. N told NewsClick, "Game of skill is categorised as a game and game of chance is categorised as gambling. For example, rummy is considered a game of skill because it is necessary to know how to smartly use the cards, unlike card games like mangatha and ulla-veliya, which are purely based on chance."
He also added, "Although skill is necessary to perform well in a rummy game, online rummy games can be pre-programmed based on algorithms, and skill may not suffice, yet as of now it is considered as a game."
Online gaming applications trick people into thinking that they are playing a game against other humans like themselves; however, they are often completely programmed using artificial intelligence. Besides gaming and gambling, this could even amount to cheating.
BAN OR REGULATION?
Gambling is a state subject in India; states can formulate and implement laws banning and regulating them. However, states that have passed laws on online gaming and gambling don't have a method to implement them.
Karthikeyan said, "If a game is banned, how will the state ensure that Google Playstore or other platforms remove the game in a particular state. Given that online gambling is not specific to location, it should be regulated by the Centre. It should at least be brought to the concurrent list."
He further added, "If a game is banned, only the name of the game is banned. The same application might continue to exist with a different name, or people may download it using alternate platforms. The state cannot go after every game. Banning is never a good solution."
"Regulating online gaming and forming a regulatory body to overlook and review implementation is a better solution. Moreover, there is no point in putting a penalty on people; the penalty should be on the companies if laws are not implemented," he added.
Moreover, other countries already have laws in place to regulate online gaming. Karthikeyan said, "China has done a good job regulating online gaming. They have an age limit verification system, and a cap is set on the amount of time and money that can be spent on a game in a day."