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Online Gaming: High Stakes

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Online Gaming: High Stakes
Gambling on online gaming sites is catching on/Photo: Anil Shakya
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Above: Gambling on online gaming sites is catching on/Photo: Anil Shakya

This new form of betting has caught on in India and is worth around Rs 20,000 crore annually. Is it time to have a gaming commission to govern and license this industry?

By Neeraj Mishra

One of the Indian Premier League’s biggest contribution has been a massive increase in online gaming in India. All Teen Patti and Paplu players have taken to placing bets and learning online lingo like they were born to it. There has been a three-dimensional growth alongside it in the field of e-wallets, sophisticated virtual gaming rooms and software and surprisingly, lawmakers are looking at it positively and wanting it to be in conformity with international laws and rules of gaming.

The first one to realise this was Pawan Kumar Chamling, former chief minister of Sikkim, who passed the Online Gaming Act in the state in 2014. This allowed the issuance of licences for game sites, making it possible to use Indian money legally at least within the state. Punters have been at it for long, but one major hurdle has always been the exchange of cash, as most sites are controlled from the US or Europe.

The second hurdle was that most of these sites would play blackjack and poker, but not India’s favourite Teen Patti and Paplu.

But Future Gaming Solutions, became the first company to be licensed and opened the floodgates. The Indian online gaming industry is believed to be now around Rs 20,000 crore annually.

But by far the most significant effort has been made by Dr Shashi Tharoor, who on December 28 last introduced the Sports (Online Gaming and Prevention of Fraud) Bill in Parliament. The Bill focuses on bringing all online gaming in sports under an umbrella gaming commission. This legal commission would govern and license the online sports gaming market. Any number of specified rules and regulations could be introduced by this commission.

The second key issue that the Bill focuses on is maintaining the integrity of sports. The aim is to prevent any sporting event or match from being compromised due to match-fixing or manipulation. It defines online sports gaming as placing a bet on the whole or partial outcome of a sports match via a telecommunication device. This includes mobile devices like smart phones and desktop computers. Although no set of rules has been decided yet, the potential restrictions that the commission can place include banning minors from playing, introducing a maximum charge for betting fees and limiting access to credit for wagering.

So clearly, online gaming falls into two categories at present in India: cards and associated forms of gambling such as casinos and sports. The 1867 Public Gambling Act is still applicable throughout India, though each state now has its own gambling act. There are at least two states—Maharashtra and Telangana—which have outlawed online gaming, but there are others like Sikkim and Nagaland which seem to welcome it in the hope of generating some revenue from it.

Tharoor says: “The law must adopt a regulatory appr­oach and effectively demarcate the lines of permissible conduct in the field of betting or gaming. My Bill provides the framework to make this possible.”

One of the key takeaways from his stand in Parliament is that he feels that when gaming is on in the country in some shady manner or the other, then there is an urgent need to regularise it and earn revenue from it.

Many state governments have tried this and several politicians seem to agree with his views, including N Chandrababu Naidu who wanted to try it out in the Krishna basin in Andhra. While the BJP had opposed Congress leader Digvijaya Singh’s attempts to introduce casinos in Khajuraho, it continues to reap revenues from the same in Goa, which it has ruled for the past two terms. Though land and offshore casinos have the benefit of direct exchange of cash, they have also taken to online gaming in a big way. They can guarantee cash immediately for punters, which is what matters.

The rise of e-wallets has also to some extent solved the problems of punters wagering online. Neteller and Skrill are some of the popular e-wallets which charge a small percentage to guarantee safe online transactions. World Cup cricket, of course, has been a boon for those running online shops and it is estimated that some seven prime sites alone will rake in upwards of Rs 1,500 crore as the cut in the stakes is a standard 10 percent. Raking in the moolah has never seemed easier.

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