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How the Indian mythology would’ve shaped if Dropadi was not lost by her husbands in a game of dice!
Existent since the Mahabharata era when entire kingdoms and sadly, even wives were lost in a mere game, gambling is deep rooted in our country’s culture. Contemporarily prohibited, gambling was once a thriving sport and pastime. There’d be a high probability of winning if one places a bet that 50% people are unaware of gambling laws in India and the other 50% are oblivious to its illegality!
With a population of more than a billion uninformed gamblers, the central legislation that interdicts gambling in India remains unaffected by the alterations brought by changing times. The 200 years old outdated law that was laid in the British era and prohibits all gambling activities is still applicable in developing independent India.
No advancements have been made to define or legalise gambling activities, except making it a state subject under Seventh Schedule of Indian Constitution leading to its legalisation in 3 states- Goa, Sikkim and Daman and Diu. Sikkim is the sole state to legalise online gaming, a radical development for the gambling industry.
Lack of a definition as to what can be termed as ‘gambling activities’ on the top of judicial pronouncements has led to a chaos with regards to legality of different activities which are considered as gambling or betting. This ruckus often raises a question whether it was correct when 17 senior citizens in Mumbai were arrested and charged under the Bombay Prevention of Gambling Act, 1887 for playing Rummy and Bridge at the Andheri Gymkhana when the law itself is unclear if these are even gambling activities or not!
Legal or not, gambling constitutes around 3.5% India’s total GDP. Gambling industry is encountering a tremendous change as casinos, online gambling activities, lotteries, cricket betting and similar activities are bringing new, modernised machines and replacing the old instruments of gambling.
The central law is unequipped for handling the wildfire that online gambling is becoming. People are not required to be physically or geographically present to gamble, a single mobile app or website does it all! Likewise, betting in sports especially cricket has developed into an entire network, flourishing into a million dollar market with every cricket match.
However, online or international gambling activities are difficult to regulate pertaining to uncertain laws on the matter. Most gambling portals are operated outside the country, thriving due to the lack of updated legislation. Online payment gateways and offshore transactions add to the antique Act’s impairment.
Exemption of what the law terms as ‘games of skill’ is another hitch and a lack of streamlined regulation has made people look up to the judiciary to elucidate on the issue. With no definition provided by the gambling Act, the Supreme Court has defined ‘games of skills’ as games ‘in which success primarily depends on the superior knowledge, training, attention, experience, and adroitness of the player.’
Appraising this definition, the court has exempted the game of chess and golf, terming them as ‘games of skills’. Similarly, horse race betting is allowed in India as according to the court, it is a game of skill which requires evaluation skills along with skill and management of the rider. Games like rummy, bridge and billiards have been recognised by the courts in India as games of skill.
However, the judiciary is divided on the matter as other sports like cricket, card games like poker or any online games are not considered as games of skill and any betting or gambling incidental is illegal and liable for penal consequences.
Conclusively, the question whether the current law is adequate is more vital than whether gambling should be legalised in India. When on one hand legalising gambling is considered to be beneficial and tax generative, on the other hand, it is contemplated as ethically wrong and diverting people towards addiction. Though legalising gambling may not be the answer, amending the existing law on the matter is needed urgently!