India Asks States To Replace 'Archaic' Gaming Law

December 16, 2022
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India’s government has requested that all states and Union Territories repeal a 19th-century gambling law as part of a growing push to modernise and streamline gaming regulation.

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India’s government has requested that all states and Union Territories repeal a 19th-century gambling law as part of a growing push to modernise and streamline gaming regulation.

The Home Ministry last week sent a letter to state government chief secretaries and Union Territory administrators urging them to repeal the Public Gambling Act 1867 (PGA) and introduce up-to-date legislation, the online news outlet CNN News18 reported.

The act, introduced during British rule and now “archaic”, should be immediately repealed and replaced with new state-by-state legislation, the ministry said, adding that it would be “grateful” if the governments did so.

The letter is part of a wider push from the central government to renovate a legal environment for gaming and gambling that has spawned political tensions in some states, where public and political sentiment face off with a gaming industry enjoying judicial support.

Ranjana Adhikari, a Mumbai-based partner in the Media, Entertainment and Gaming practice of the IndusLaw firm, said on Thursday (December 15) that the development points to momentum for legislative change at the national and regional levels.

The letter is “indicative of [the central government’s] willingness to lead the change(s) in the regulatory environment for gaming/gambling in the country, and is also indicative of a certain urgency which it feels in that regard”, she told VIXIO GamblingCompliance.

India’s Constitution delegates legislative powers on “betting and gambling” to state governments, and the central government is unlikely to attempt to legislate on a national level, Adhikari said.

However, “the Constitution contains provisions which allow it to do so if it decides to go down that legislative route,” she added.

Still, it appears that the central government is firming on a collaborative approach to gaming law and regulation, in which a national regulatory scheme would operate with the legal backing of those states that opt in.

The government has said that other states would retain the power to ban land-based and online gambling, although this remains subject to multiple appeals to the Supreme Court, which has backed skill gaming with stakes.

In the meantime, and after years of inaction, the central government appears committed to establishing a comprehensive online regulatory structure, potentially including once-taboo chance games.

Reuters reported in early December that the Prime Minister’s office overruled a cross-ministry committee of Cabinet secretaries and think tank officials to back an inclusive regulatory scheme that embraces skill gaming and chance gaming with stakes.

For now, the push to reform gaming legislation and regulation across two tiers of government appears to rely in part on political party control of state jurisdictions.

“It is also pertinent to note that a majority of the states which have the PGA as their anti-gambling law have the same party in power as the centre,” she said.

“So it wouldn’t be difficult for the centre to expedite the repealing of the PGA and pave the way for the central government to lead the framing of new law(s) for gaming and gambling by whichever mode it feels most appropriate.”

The original PGA survived India’s independence after World War II through state-by-state ratification, and it remains in force with amendments in numerous states, but it has proven to be almost entirely unworkable in the face of technological advances and internet penetration.

Other states have since consigned the pre-internet PGA to history by introducing new gaming legislation, although Adhikari notes that even these updated laws “were broadly modelled” on the original.

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