India Flags Combined Regulation For Skill And Chance Gaming

December 6, 2022
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India’s central government appears to have embraced skill and chance games with stakes as a single regulatable segment, after the Prime Minister’s office overruled an expert committee’s proposal to regulate only skill games, Reuters has reported.

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India’s central government appears to have embraced skill and chance games with stakes as a single regulatable segment, after the Prime Minister’s office overruled an expert committee’s proposal to regulate only skill games, Reuters has reported.

An official from the Prime Minister’s office overruled the cross-ministry committee of secretaries and think tank officials during a meeting on October 26, determining that its proposal to regulate skill gaming with stakes be replaced by an inclusive regulatory structure for all real-money games, the news agency said.

Citing minutes from the meeting and unnamed government sources, Reuters said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s representative objected to a policy distinction between skill and chance games.

The distinction is difficult to clarify and is undermined by inconsistent rulings in courts across India, the minutes quoted the official as saying.

“Online gaming may be considered as one activity/service with no distinction,” the official was recorded as saying.

If borne out by the eventual regulatory mechanism, the Prime Minister’s office’s position would represent a radical change in policy on real-money gaming, harmonising constitutionally protected skill gaming with largely taboo and legally perilous chance gaming.

Online rummy and poker operators and their lobbyists have for years pointed to the constitutionality of skill gaming — confirmed by several Supreme Court rulings — to defend against hostile state legislatures and to distinguish themselves from politically stigmatising chance gaming activity.

The central government, therefore, appears to have reversed not only its stance on chance gaming as part of an attempt to birth a national regulator, but also the expert committee’s proposal on the discretion afforded to state governments.

By excluding chance gaming, the committee’s original proposal left the possibility of chance gaming legalisation to individual state governments. The Prime Minister’s office’s approach would permit chance gaming nationally on the proviso that state governments could apply local bans.

It was not immediately clear if the October meeting addressed established judicial definitions of gaming and the constitutionality of legislating and regulating chance gaming, or “gambling”, an activity generally forbidden but up to state governments to legislate and enforce.

As early as mid-January, the Supreme Court will hear a joint appeal from the state governments of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, which are seeking to overturn High Court rulings that threw out their legislation banning all online gaming, including skill games.

Even if the Supreme Court stands by its earlier rulings on skill gaming, its position on chance gaming could still affect central and state government attempts at regulation and prohibition.

On Monday (December 5), meanwhile, counsel for the Telangana state government informed the state’s High Court that it had filed a petition to the Supreme Court to join the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu appeal, the G2G gaming news outlet reported.

Telangana is one of the most hostile state governments to online gaming, being one of the first to implement a catch-all ban on online gaming in 2017.

The Telangana High Court agreed not to proceed with the complaint against the government ban until the Supreme Court considers the petition, but ruled that interim relief would be considered for the online gaming applicants if no progress is made by January 31.

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