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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Virat Kholi, Tammanaah were served by Kerala HC. Rightly So. Online gambling must be regulated.

While the celebrities in question (Aju, Kohli and Tamannah) may not violated any law, the notices issued to them should spark a debate and lead us to a permanent solution to the growing addiction problem.

Over a petition against the online Rummy games, The Kerala high court served notices to Indian captain Virat Kohli and Tamannaah Bhatia and Aju Varghese. This notice should spark a debate and push the long overdue regulation of online gambling in the right direction.

The growth of rapid online gambling in India is mainly driven by participation from the people of middle and low income groups. One statistic indicates, the total value of gambling and related gaming grew to 62 billion Indian Rupees in 2019. And is expected to grow to 250 billion by 2025. Celebrity endorsement of this practice can only expedite the growth. Letting this growth with out a regulatory supervision will severely benefit from the ill-informed low income groups.

The Petition and the court notices:

The notices by the Kerala High Court are of from a hearing of by petition by Pauly Vadakkan. Pauly alleged online gambling is growing threat to the people of vulnerable middle and low income groups. In addition to Kohli and Tamannah, the division bench headed by Cheif Justice S.Manikumar also served Malayalam actor Aju Varghese.

The petition mentioned a death of a young ISRO employee in Thiruvananthapuram district. The alleged cause of the death by suicide is the pressure he had to face because of a 21 lakh debt he made in the trap on online gambling. Allegedly these gambling sites are endorsed by the celebrities, including Aju, Kohli and Tamannah. The main premise of the notice is the celebrity endorsements makes the fake promises made by “these” gambling platforms appear legit.

While asking a complete ban on the online gambling and games, the petitioner cited an Andhra Pradesh an ordinance, High Courts, particularly the high courts of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.

What does the law stand on online gambling:

It is worthy recognizing neither the celebrities mentioned in the plea (Aju, Kohli and Tamannah) may nor the gaming companies probably not violated any law. This is where the problem lies. As a matter of the fact, the petitioner himself submitted that the present law governing gaming activities in the state, the Kerala Gaming Act 1960, does not bring within its purview any online gambling, wagering or betting activities.

Indian law classifies games into two broad categories viz. game of skill and game of chance. Games of skill are exempt from the ambit of gambling. And for the games of chance, the regulatory power lies with in the states of the Indian Union. This is where the confusion arises. Different states have different sensitivity to legalizing the games of chance. Goa for example with its Goa Gaming Act of 1976 legalized and issued licenses to shops of online casino games such as blackjack, roulette, and many others. And in states like Maharastra Lottery and horse racing are legal but the Bombay Wager Act prohibits Online gambling.

Game of skill or chance:

Additionally, the question of whether a game is a game of skill or chance is also debatable. This makes the law making process very difficult. Speaking in a debate forum organized by The Hindu on the topic of PayTM app ban by the Google Store, Jay Sayta underscores that the states statutes are pretty old, and they do not clearly define or enumerate which games fall within this skill category. He goes on and cites the episode of courts interpretation of Dream11 case:

“Dream11 and daily fantasy sports, the matter has gone to multiple High Courts starting from 2017. In 2017, the Punjab and Haryana High Court ruled that the format of Dream11, which involves picking 11 players from a real-life match from both sides and allocating points based on their real-life performance, is a game of skill and does not fall within the definition of gambling. Following that, in 2019, the Bombay High Court also passed a similar ruling. The Rajasthan High Court gave a similar ruling earlier this year. However, on March 6 this year, the Supreme Court, while hearing the appeals from the Maharashtra government against the Bombay High Court’s order on Dream11, issued notice to all parties and stayed the operation of the Bombay order, which means that they will go into the merits of the matter in detail and adjudicate finally on whether it is a game of skill or not.” This illustrates how this topic can be highly contentious and debatable.

And in the state of Kerala, in the current plea , the petitioner himself submitted how the current the Kerala Gaming Act 1960 does not bring within its purview any online gambling, wagering or betting activities.

Given all this, online gaming portals mushroomed in India. And with out a proper overarching regulation, the government is not only turning a blind eye to possible addiction problem among the youth but is losing at a millions of rupees annually.

While the celebrities in question (Aju, Kohli and Tamannah) may not violated any law, the notices issued to them should spark a debate and lead us to a permanent solution. It could be a well thought out well regulated total legalization of online gambling too.

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