Wednesday, August 10, 2022

On the road to regulation in India

In a move likely to give a much-needed and major boost to the gambling industry in India, the All India Gaming Federation, a body that intends to promote legal gambling among other objectives, was launched in Delhi last week, on Wednesday, August 3.

AIGF is a registered, non-profit organization based in Mumbai, Maharashtra, headed by its chief executive officer, Roland Landers, who has over two decades of experience in managerial positions in reputable companies. AIGF intends to “deal with issues surrounding the gaming industry,” and shall comprise “players, policy analysts, industry experts,” among other stakeholders. AIGF is partnered in the venture by the country’s leading company in the gaming sector, the Deltin group, among others.

The launch of AIGF was accompanied by a panel discussion on the said issues surrounding the gaming and gambling industry in India. The discussion was moderated by well-known sports journalist Pradeep Magazine. Kirti Azad, a Member of Parliament from the Bharatiya Janata Party which is in power at the Centre, Ranjit Sinha, former director of the premier Indian investigative agency the Central Bureau of Investigation, and Rosalind Wade, managing director of Asia Gaming Brief, participated in the discussion. Wade took part in the discussion via a video link.

Kicking off the discussion, Magazine pointed out that there was no nation-wide regulatory mechanism when it came to gaming and gambling in the country. Drawing a distinction between games of skill and chance, he said that even the Indian courts recognized rummy and poker as falling in the former category. He added that lack of recognition to gambling as an industry led to a loss in revenue to the tune of billions of dollars.

A 2010 report by KPMG, the global audit firm, had contended that the gaming and gambling industry in India was worth over USD 60 billion. More recently, a report by the International Centre for Sports Security calculated the betting market in India to be worth over USD 130 billion. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry believes that legalizing betting and gambling would help the government receive revenue worth USD three billion in taxes.

Azad, whose party BJP is backed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an ultra-conservative Hindu nationalist organization, reiterated the objections that are likely to come in the way of AIGF’s efforts to make gambling legal in India. Citing the oft-repeated tale from the Indian epic Mahabharata, Azad cautioned that, like one of the main characters from the book who ended up wagering his wife in a game of dice, others might also take to such degrading and extreme acts if gambling were to be promoted in the country. He also specifically mentioned his fear that the poor might lose all they possessed if they became addicted to gambling.

Taking the more practical view, Sinha opined that illegal gambling was very prevalent in India. He took the view that it would be useful for the society if it were to be legalized, while putting in place a system that would help check its misuse, especially by youngsters. He also batted for a regulatory body to be set up to deal with the task. “If the people can vote to elect a Prime Minister and a government, they know what is good and bad for them,” Sinha said. Adding that “moralistic positions” were compounding the problems related to the industry, he pointed out that those Indians who could afford it were already gambling abroad.

Providing the international perspective, Wade stated that countries like Russia and Australia had regulated betting on sports, while Vietnam, Cambodia and South Korea were considering the same. “This can check fraudulent activities,” she said. However, she admitted that since betting was not a “popular political topic”, it made legislating on the issue difficult. Nevertheless, she mentioned that even China, India’s neighbor and economic competitor, was considering opening up the lottery to online and mobile channels on a province by province trial basis.

In any case, such measures remain mired in complexities; for example, she pointed out that online gambling was not legal in Macau which allows other forms of gambling in its casinos and is one of the world’s top destinations for the purpose.

The AIGF has already made some moves concerning the legalization of gambling in India.  Last month, Landers formally requested the government of Kerala, a tourist hotspot, to allow poker, bridge and fantasy games to be played legally. This was after Jay Sayta, an office-bearer of AIGF, found out that the state government had exempted rummy from coming under the ambit of gambling, as per a notification issued in 1976, under section 14A of the Kerala Gaming Act.

Casinos are only legal in two states in India currently - Goa and Sikkim, while Maharashtra has a law which is not yet implemented. There is also a gaming license pending for a casino resort in Daman. Online gaming is only licensed in Sikkim which permits intranet gaming, while games of skill are legal in all states except Assam and Odisha, with Nagaland having a separate Bill to regulate online games of skill pending in assembly.

It remains to be seen how successful AIGF will be in its efforts considering the entrenched conservative views to which influential elected representatives continue to subscribe but, going by the positive and enthusiastic sentiment at the launch, it appears to be a challenge that ought to be taken up.  

Asia Gaming Brief is a news and intelligence service providing up to date market information for worldwide executives on relevant gaming issues in Asia.

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