The COVID-19 pandemic changed the lives of people across the globe on so many levels. People were forced to retreat into their homes and away from public spaces. As we adjusted to the new normal, those who could afford to started embracing digital technology in more nuanced WAYS. From using video conferencing technology to communicate with colleagues to socializing and playing games online, our use of the internet was taken to new levels. People found more and more ways to entertain themselves online, too, such as using online streaming platforms to watch movies to gaming online; the possibilities were endless. 

Undeniably, online gaming is perhaps one of the most sought-after pastimes, even during post-pandemic and self-isolation periods. Nevertheless, one cannot negate the fact that there is an array of legal, social, mental and monetary repercussions which must be addressed. The reality is, as time passes, more new casino sites in India are being  given the green light to operate. With that being said, however, as the popularity of online gaming grows in India, it has become necessary to reevaluate the guidelines in place to regulate the industry and protect consumers. 

The Popularity of Online Gaming In India

Let’s begin by putting things into perspective here. A recent Statista survey showed the market value of the gaming industry in India to amount to nearly USD 1 billion at present, with this figure looking to increase to USD 3.4 billion by 2024. Much of this projected growth is due to India’s large youth population, who are highly tech-savvy and thus attracted to this sector. 

The Proposed Bill

In response to the growth of online gaming in India, we have recently seen the proposition of a private member’s bill – the Online Gaming (Regulation) Bill 2022. The aim of the proposed legislation is to improve the regulation of online gaming in order to maintain greater integrity and safeguard stakeholders. However, there seems to be a great deal of public ambivalence towards the bill, with several commentators expressing skepticism at the proposed bill’s ability to curb illegal activity in the online gaming sector due to its regressive nature.

To establish the so-called flaws of India’s Online Gaming Bill, let’s start by analyzing it in a little more detail to ascertain where it falls short of the mark. 

Deconstructing India’s Online Gaming (Regulation) Bill 2022

First things first – the bill begins by defining ‘online gaming’ as any game played on an electronic device, including a computer, cell phone or tablet. Now when it comes to the sphere of gaming, we can easily spot a loophole with this definition in that it fails to differentiate between games of skill and games of chance. Naturally, we all know there is a marked difference between casual gaming and real money gaming, which is where most of the regulation is needed. 

The real money gaming sector in India is currently valued at INR 49 billion and is projected to increase by INR 11 billion by 2025. The dangers of gambling are well documented. Addiction and overspending at casinos have long been the cause of immeasurable mental and social suffering, which is why it is essential for online gaming to be properly regulated. 

Striving For Balanced Regulation The Online Gaming Sector

With that being said, however, legislation around the online gaming sector needs to be implemented in a balanced manner. After all, the growth of online gaming as a whole has the potential to be incredibly beneficial for India’s economy, so while curbing illegal and harmful activity is imperative, it need not be at the expense of growth. 

Some states of India, such as Odisha, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, have been very heavy-handed in the approach by completely banning real money gaming. At the other end of the spectrum, you see states like Goa and Sikkim that have turned a blind eye to the problems of illegal gaming, which is problematic too. At the end of the day, it is in the country’s interests to adopt a more pragmatic approach such as West Beal and Nagaland have done. 

Looking To The Future

India’s history in legislating the online gaming sector has truly been a mixed bag, leading to a lot of confusion. While establishing a commission that the central government will run is certainly a much-needed step in enforcing some degree of uniformity in the approach to the online gaming industry, the states themselves also need to be bought in line for the sake of clarity. 

If we look at a country like the USA, which established its Gaming Control Board, it is apparent that a middle-ground solution whereby a federal government agency is charged with overseeing the country’s gaming industry is certainly viable for India too.

At the end of the day, while the proposed bill is certainly a step in the right direction, it is clear there are parts of it that are poorly throughout, and there is a need for greater transparency. The gaming sector in India is highly lucrative, so it is important to nurture this potential while also finding a comprehensive legal solution that can safeguard the privacy of all parties.

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