Indian law related to online gambling is ambiguous. While there is no federal law that prohibits online gambling, states are allowed to make their own laws. Accordingly, some states have legislated to make online gambling illegal. Some others require online gambling sites to seek authorization before they can operate within those states.
According to federal law, gambling at a public gaming house is illegal. Online gambling sites do not fall under the definition of public gaming houses. So, except in states that have legislated to forbid online gambling, it is considered legal. Thus, currently, online gambling can be considered legal in almost all of the 29 states in India.
Differentiation between Games of Chance and Skill
Another aspect of the federal Indian law on gambling is the differentiation between games of chance and games of skill. While games of chance are considered to constitute gambling activity, games of skill are not.
Post Pandemic Surge in Online Gaming
In the wake of the pandemic, there has been a surge in online gambling. The surge has been accompanied by a rising incidence of lost savings and gambling debts, as well as other negative social consequences, such as suicide. Unsurprisingly, there has been a rise in public interest litigation. According to legal experts, such litigation could prove to be a game changer for online gambling in India. With courts forced to address the matter, it could lead to greater clarity regarding the legality of online gambling.
Supreme Court Decision in Favour of Dream11
In one such case filed in Rajasthan against Dream 11 fantasy sports the Rajasthan High Court had favoured Dream 11. The said court had held that Dream 11 constituted a game of skill and not a game of chance. Hence, Dream 11 did not constitute gambling. The petitioners appealed against the High Court’s decision in the Supreme Court. In August 2021, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal against the Rajasthan High court. This must be considered a landmark judgement favouring online gambling.
Review of Online Gambling Industry by PMO Viewed with Optimism
In another development, the Prime Minister’s Office has called for a review of files relating to the online gambling industry. People related to the industry are viewing this development with optimism.
The Supreme Court decision could have come at an opportune time for the online gambling industry. Former law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is reported to have been asked by the PMO to look at representations made by people related to the online gaming industry.
With online gambling business in India thriving in the post-pandemic era, industry representatives are viewing the PMO move with optimism. They reckon that any resulting regulatory measures could go beyond fantasy sports.
Such measures could also have a cascading effect at the states’ level. If the central decision took a positive decision in favour of online gambling, it could have a direct impact on some key states. States that are politically aligned with the central government are likely to mirror such decision in their laws on online gambling.