With the emerging digital age, India is stepping forward in every direction. But the recent ban on online gambling in Karnataka looks like a step behind in terms of the growing economy and the digital era. With the growing investments in the Indian Gaming Society, the gaming market has exploded with a potential of growing exponentially upto $4 billion by 2024. According to a 2021 ENV (Esse N Vidari) Media study, Indian gamers spent some $1.73 billion in online sports betting alone. As reported by the Economic Times. This was a consequence of the rapid growth in the infrastructure, communication technology and a better internet availability in the country, one of the best in the world.
The recent pronouncements declared Dream11 a game of ‘skill’ and not only ‘luck’, making it legal and abided in various regions namely Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Mumbai. In February 2021, an amendment to the Tamil Nadu Gaming Act, 1930, lifted the ban on all forms of online gaming in that state but Karnataka, joined by Telangana, disagreed on the matter, banning all forms of online gambling in the state. Some would call these officials hypocrites as they scrape money out of the alcohol and tobacco industry in spite of the known dangers and its effect on people.
It was Victorian Britain, in the form of the council of the governor general of India, that introduced a Bill that was to become the Public Gambling Act (PGA), 1867. This law continues to stand on the statute book today, and serves as the blueprint for other anti-gambling laws in different states. PGA distinguished between the games of ‘skill’ vs those of ‘chance’. The latter were treated as tantamount to gambling, and provision found the practitioners punishable indulging in such games, while establishments that operated on this were declared unlawful and hence were closed.
There has been acceptance regarding online gaming and betting in various states who have been firm on the classification based on ‘skill’ and ‘chance’. Not to forget, the majority of the states still find the concept rather unethical and banked on the opposite side of its legalization, even as they, ironically, run their own state lotteries. However, there are exceptions of states, like Goa, who allowed gambling within their state lines but imposed embargo on the locals for setting their foot in such establishments/ casinos. It is time to revisit the whole ‘skill vs chance’ false binary test, instead. After all, the point is modern legislations – as opposed to theological laws and religious scripts usually quoted to prohibit gambling – should treat adult Indians as informed adults.