A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed in the Delhi High Court by social activist Avinash Mehrotra last month, seeking banning of offshore online betting and Indian online poker websites has lead to much debate and speculation about whether the Indian government will crackdown on offshore betting websites that are available to Indian citizens.
The Delhi High Court in its order on 29th May issued notice to the central government and RBI, and listed the matter for hearing on 31st July, by which time it ordered that all counter-affidavits and rejoinders are to be filed.
Mehrotra in his petition has stated that the respondent (Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology) should block illegal gambling websites, including BetRally, Betway and Dafabet from being accessed in India under Sections 67 and 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
Interestingly however, the Bombay High Court addressed the issue of online betting website Betfair being available in India in its order in Abbas Shaikh v. Union of India & Others in 2010.
The court in its order dated 10th March, 2010, noted that the state of Maharashtra had written to the Director of the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, seeking blocking of Betfair.com and asked the CERT to take action in accordance with law within three months.
As per a response given by the IT Ministry to a Right to Information (RTI) query filed by activist Pranesh Prakash, the CERT-IN did meet on 24th August, 2010 to discuss blocking of the website Betfair on grounds of public order, but noted that no details suggesting the impact of the website on public order has been given by the state of Maharashtra.
The CERT-IN consequently rejected the demand to direct blocking of Betfair. (Interestingly though Betfair ceased accepting customers from India earlier this year and the website is no longer accessible from Indian IP addresses).
It remains to be seen whether the Information Technology Ministry and CERT-IN will also state in the Delhi High Court like it did in its 2010 meeting that online betting websites cannot be blocked under the grounds of ‘public order’.
The CERT and IT ministry could however react differently in 2019 due to the provision in the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 (these rules had not come into force when the CERT decided the Betfair issue in 2010), which require intermediaries like ISPs, search engines and hosting providers to not transmit any content, inter alia, ‘relating to or encouraging gambling’ and disable such content within 36 hours of it being brought to their notice.
Read more about gambling laws in India.