Online Gaming in India

The gaming scene in India, like the rest of the world, has irrevocably been shaken up with the evolution of digital and online gaming. While PC and Console gaming still remain wildly popular, the number of users indulging in online gaming is on a steady rise. In India, the gaming sector is regulated by The Public Gaming Act, 1857. In a study on Online Gaming in India conducted by KPMG India and Google in 2017, the online gaming market in India stands at 290 Million USD and is expected to grow to 1 Billion USD by 2021. There is more diversity among Indian Gamers and in comparison to the global market and it is ever increasing.

The Indian Constitution has granted the individual State Governments the right to enact legislation to govern gambling. But what exactly is the difference between gaming and gambling as provided by the act.

Game vs Gamble

The Supreme Court in Dr. K. R. Lakshmanan vs State of Tamil Nadu and Anr. held that,

“Gambling in a nut-shell is payment of a price for a chance to win a prize. Games may be of chance, or of skill or of skill and chance combined. A game of chance is determined entirely or in part by lot or mere luck. The throw of the dice, the turning of the wheel, the shuffling of the cards, are all modes of chance. In these games the result is wholly uncertain and doubtful. No human mind knows or can know what it will be until the dice is thrown, the wheel stops its revolution or the dealer has dealt with the cards. A game of skill, on the other hand – although the element of chance necessarily cannot be entirely eliminated  is one in which success depends principally upon the superior knowledge, training, attention, experience and adroitness of the player. Golf, chess and even Rummy are considered to be games of skill. The courts have reasoned that there are few games, if any, which consist purely of chance or skill, and as such a game of chance is one in which the element of chance predominates over the element of skill, and a game of skill is one in which the element of skill predominates over the element of chance. It is the dominant element – “skill” or “chance” – which determines the character of the game.”

Nagaland, Sikkim, Assam are the only states in India that have their own gaming and gambling rules. The Sikkim rules state that the games have to be safe, secure and fair. In Nagaland, the state issues licenses for games of skill. But what is the need for such regulations?

Recent Developments

There have been a few negative developments in the online gaming scene recently. For instance, the Blue Whale Challenge is a ‘game’ that comprises 50 tasks of increasing difficulty. The penultimate challenge presented to the user is to commit suicide as the ‘final task’ with a promise to provide a thrilling  started in Russia four years ago on a social networking site called VKontakte. It had already claimed over 130 lives in Russia with the first suicide taking place in 2015.What is worrying is that despite the common knowledge that the deadly game started and spread on VKontakte, which is a hugely popular site in Russia, no checks were brought in place to contain the network. One can easily create a VKontakte account . And once you log in, and search for ‘#bluewhale’, you come across psychotic, extremely depressing messages of young people desperately wanting to play the game and end their lives. Blue Whale wasn’t even an actual game but a social media phenomenon that posed as a ‘game’ to fool depressed youngsters. The challenge could be accessed through various platforms

In India, up to 4 people had already committed suicide when the Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani had stated that the Gujarat State Government would bring an ordinance if need be to ban the game in Gujarat.

In another instance, The Momo Challenge was yet another ‘game’ that encouraged children to take their own lives. It purportedly enticed children to perform a series of harmful task such as violence, self-harm and even suicide. But the social media hoax turned out to be a fake one.

The Sports (Online Gaming and Prevention of Fraud) Bill, 2018

In light of such events, instead of spending time bringing about an ordinance to ban such games, a legislation that protects online gamers from such predators is the need of the hour. Congress Member of Parliament (MP) Shashi Tharoor introduced a private member’s bill, namely, the Sports (Online Gaming & Prevention of Fraud) Bill, 2018 in the Lok Sabha on 28 December 2018. The first objective of this bill is to introduce an offence of ‘Sport Fraud’ in order to prevent unethical gambling that may lead to match fixing or manipulation of international sport events and the second objective being the creation of a national regulatory and licensing framework and the creation of an Online Sports Gaming Commission and licensing framework to oversee online sports gaming which will put forward numerous safety guidelines to be followed.

Even though the primary aim of this bill is to restrict match-fixing, this can also serve as an umbrella framework to prevent destructive games like The Blue Whale Game from festering. The Gaming Commission can ensure that all prerogatives are met by the online game developers.

Online Gaming may be difficult to pin down to follow a regulatory framework. Many local developers may find it easy to skirt around an issue and find loopholes but it may still be a start.

There are many benefits to gaming. They help increase communication, leadership, coordination but these are glossed over in the gaming world if the negative aspects are in the limelight. Xbox has parental controls that lets you lock away content you don’t think is accuratefor children. Similarly, a strict legislation for online gaming will be significant.

About the Author: Kirti Menon, Intern at Khurana and Khurana Advocates and IP Attorneys and can be reached at swapnils@khuranaandkhurana.com

References:

[1] The Sports (Online Gmaing and Prevention of fraud Bill) – http://164.100.47.4/BillsTexts/LSBillTexts/Asintroduced/2415as.pdf

[2] Nagaland Gaming Rules – http://164.100.47.4/BillsTexts/LSBillTexts/Asintroduced/2415as.pdf

[3] Gujarat Government bans the Blue Whale Challenge – https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/gujarat-government-to-ban-blue-whale-challenge-game/articleshow/60378906.cms?from=mdrhttps://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/gujarat-government-to-ban-blue-whale-challenge-game/articleshow/60378906.cms?from=mdr

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