Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has requested IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to direct internet service providers (ISPs) to block 132 websites supposedly engaged in online real money gaming.
On October 27, Jagan Mohan Reddy wrote a letter to the IT minister, claiming that online gaming and betting were severe social evils. The Andhra CM mentioned in the letter that on September 25, 2020, his government had amended the Andhra Pradesh Gambling Act, 1974 to ban online gaming and gambling websites. As per the amendment to the law, those convicted of indulging in online real money gaming in the state would be penalised with up to six months of imprisonment, which could increase to a two-year jail term for repeat offenders
The Andhra CM added in his letter that managing directors of real money gaming companies, as well as those assisting the operations of such companies, such as ISPs, would also be held liable if such websites are found to be operating in the state.
Curiously, among the 132 websites that have been listed in the CM’s letter, notable exceptions are real money fantasy sports gaming app and IPL 2020 title sponsor Dream11. This, even though other fantasy sports platforms such as Mobile Premier League (MPL), as well as websites offering real money skill-based card games such as Adda52 and SpartanPoker, have been listed in the letter. Besides this, the list of websites includes Miniclip.com, a proxy website for downloading esports title Fortnite, League Of Legends, EA (Electronic Arts) and Chess.com, all of which have little or nothing to do with real money gaming.
How Are Chess Or Fortnite Real Money Gaming?
Even though the state government in its amendment had banned online gaming websites which require the user to wager money against the outcome of the game, the Andhra CM, in his letter, seems to have used the term ‘online gaming’ loosely. Hence, websites which don’t offer real money gaming have also been included in the list attached to the letter.
While Miniclip is a casual gaming website where users can play for free, Fortnite is a legitimate game with a well-publicised microtransactions business model and no real money component — players can only spend money on cosmetic upgrades.
Similarly, Chess.com is an online platform and community for chess players, with most of its features available free of charge. Electronic Arts (EA) is an American video game company, publisher and developer of games such as FIFA and Need For Speed which are popular esports titles.
As for Dream11, its exclusion from the list could be explained by the fact that soon after Andhra Pradesh had banned real money gaming in the state last month, Dream11 had put out a statement saying that users from Andhra Pradesh will not be able to join paid contests on Dream11.
“Due to recent changes to the Gaming Act in the State of Andhra Pradesh, users from Andhra Pradesh will not be able to join paid contests on Dream11. The laws in Assam, Odisha, Telangana, Nagaland, and Sikkim are unclear on games of skills. Hence, residents of these states are also not permitted to play pay-to-play formats of any online games,” Dream11 had declared on its website.
However, Adda52 and SpartanPoker had also issued similar statements in the immediate aftermath of the Andhra government notifying the ban last month. Both platforms have barred users from Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Telangana, Odisha, Nagaland and Sikkim — states that deem card games played for money as gambling — from participating in real money games on their platforms. Nevertheless, Adda52 and SpartanPoker have been listed in the Andhra CM’s letter.
Further, the inclusion of casual online gaming websites, portals of esports titles as well as a website dedicated solely to chess — a globally-recognised sport with legendary Indian players — raises questions about whether the Andhra Pradesh government has carried out required due diligence before identifying the websites and publicly calling for a ban.
Laws For Online Skill-Based Gaming In India
Since the 1960s, Supreme Court judgements have held that games such as poker and rummy have a dominant element of ‘skill’, which trumps the element of ‘chance’, hence ruling that both games are skill-based card games and as such, should be exempted from the anti-gambling regulations even when played for money.
However, given that gambling is a state subject, different states have framed their laws, some of which have outrightly banned all real money card games. These include Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha, where there’s a blanket ban on card games played for stake.
In states such as Sikkim and Nagaland, while the respective state governments have excluded the staking of money on games of skill from the ambit of gambling, the operators of online portals for such games are mandated to get licenses for conducting such games within state boundaries.
Besides the fact that the Public Gambling Act, 1867, the centre’s enactment on the subject, is outdated since it doesn’t take into account gaming or gambling in the virtual space, a section of the populace that refuses to delink ‘gaming’ and ‘gambling’ has also been dogging the online gaming industry’s growth.