Dealing with online gambling

Two more were reported this month, much after the Ordinance came into effect. The Bill warns players with a two-year jail time and/or a fine up to Rs 10,000.

Published: 06th February 2021 07:12 AM  |   Last Updated: 06th February 2021 07:12 AM   |  A+A-

Student suicide, stress, pressure, depression

Over half-a-dozen people in Tamil Nadu ended their lives in recent days after falling into a debt trap due to online gambling | Express Illustrations

Tamil Nadu has introduced a Bill in the Assembly to ban online gaming with stakes. The Bill, which will replace an Ordinance passed last year, has been welcomed by many sections of society. Several suicides reported in TN last year during the lockdown were attributed to financial losses that players suffered after losing money in these games.

Two more were reported this month, much after the Ordinance came into effect. The Bill warns players with a two-year jail time and/or a fine up to Rs 10,000. Though it also warns companies running these games against playing with stakes, it does not clearly specify the punishment in case of violations. With gambling being recognised as an addiction, the decision to penalise the user instead of focusing on the enabler is problematic. In such scenarios, often only the players face action.

The organisers manage to evade the law using money and influence. India’s experience with every other banned substance has an important lesson—legislations must crack down on cartels running these businesses, rather than focusing on end-users. While the Ordinance did ban the gambling apps, analysis by this newspaper found that many of them continue to be actively available to users. While big brands have restricted access for players in TN, smaller ones continue to violate the law.

As a result, the major brands have moved court against the government’s decision to ban them, stating it’s unfair. They claim they have been adhering to professional guidelines and it was the smaller firms that were exploiting people. The Indian legal system has drawn a fine line between gambling and “skill-based” gaming as early as in the 1960s.

Rummy and such card games fall under the former category. The online skill-gaming is a whopping Rs 5,000 crore industry in India, says KPMG. It is poised for rapid growth in a nation with an ever-expanding internet penetration. Recently, the industry collectively made a representation to the Central think tank NITI Aayog to set up a single self-regulatory body to standardise the regulations governing the entire sector. If that proposal is accepted, it remains to be seen what will happen to the TN legislation.

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