India’s massively populous Maharashtra state has moved closer to regulating online gaming, with the government reportedly preparing dedicated legislation that includes a 25 percent gaming tax.
The government of Maharashtra, a state of some 120m people that includes Mumbai, confirmed in September 2020 that regulation of the sector was being considered, following the submission of a feasibility report to Cabinet.
Eighteen months later, the government has moved to review existing legislation and draft a new bill, the Mirror Now television station reported on Thursday (March 24).
It said the government wants to combat online gaming fraud while boosting state revenue with a 25 percent gaming tax and will amend four state laws and produce a new law covering the sector.
Violators of some parts of the new legislation are expected to receive a jail term of between seven and ten years and a minimum fine of 1m rupees ($13,100).
The government has yet to release drafts of the legislative changes, but Deepak Pandey, commissioner of police for the city of Nashik, told the Times of India daily on Thursday that he submitted 19 suggested amendments to four laws to the director-general of police in Mumbai at the latter’s request.
Pandey, an opponent of real-money gaming, previously suggested amendments to the state’s Prevention of Gambling Act 1887 during a legislative estimates hearing in September 2021.
It was not immediately clear where a regulator would be situated in the bureaucratic apparatus, or whether the new regime would legalise all online skill gaming with stakes and even chance gaming.
However, the Mirror Now report said the regulator could answer to the state’s lottery commissioner and would be responsible for licensing and policing the sector.
Once restricted to India’s smaller and more remote states, online skill gaming operators have been greatly boosted over the course of the coronavirus pandemic as homebound Indians flock to their products.
State high courts have also defended the industry’s offerings of fantasy sports, e-sports, rummy, poker and other skill games against hostile legislation and a string of lawsuits by activists, police and governments alarmed at the take-up of online gambling.
Following several Supreme Court decisions backing skill gaming, high courts in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan states, among others, have paved the way in recent months for a major shift toward regulation for the online gaming industry.
But Maharashtra, with a population larger than any European nation other than Russia, would be a jewel in the crown of the industry should its terms of liberalisation match industry needs and expectations.