Gaming and Banning: On ban on online games
- States are resorting to banning online games as they believe that online games like rummy and poker are addictive in nature.
- However, the High Courts of several States have struck down on the bans on three grounds: violation of fundamental rights of trade and commerce, liberty and privacy, speech and expression.
- Experts believe that instead of a complete ban, one could look at licensing and regulating the industry with various checks and balances.
About online games in India
- India's online gaming sector is estimated to be worth $15,500 crores by 2023, according to the All India Gaming Federation.
- According to a 2019 poll conducted by Limelight Networks in the United States, India has the second-largest number of gamers behind South Korea.
- While online engagement w.r.t. time in India is still lower than in other nations, the survey discovered that over a quarter of adult Indian gamers had missed work while playing games.
Recent surge in Online gaming
- Due to the pandemic's lockdowns, online gaming has exploded.
- From pre-Covid levels, the average amount of time spent on online gaming has increased by about 65 percent. Virtual gaming has been used by more than 43 crore individuals.
- Over 275 gaming firms, over 15,000 game developers, and over 300 million gamers make up India's online gaming sector.
- A member of Parliament recently pushed the government to develop a comprehensive framework for regulating internet gambling.
Types of Online gaming
- E-sports (well-organized electronic sports involving professional players),
- fantasy sports (picking real-life sports players and earning points based on their performance), and
- skill-based (mental skill) and
- chance-based (based on random activity such as the roll of a dice) online games.
Present legal framework with respect to online gaming in India
- Online gambling is now in a regulatory grey area, with no comprehensive legislation addressing its legality.
- In most regions of the nation, skill-based games are permitted, but games of chance are classified as gambling, are considered immoral, and are forbidden in most areas. Because betting and gambling are state-regulated activities, each state has its own set of rules.
- Except for Goa, Sikkim, and the Union Territory of Daman, every state outlaws any kind of gambling, betting, or wagering on games of chance.
- The states of Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Nagaland, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana have also imposed limitations on skill games.
Why are States resorting to banning online gaming?
- Many social activists, government officials and those in law enforcement believe that online games like rummy and poker are addictive in nature; and when played with monetary stakes leads to depression, mounting debts and suicides.
- Reportedly, there have been a few instances where youngsters, faced with mounting debts due to losses in online games have committed other crimes like theft and murder.
- Some experts also believe that online games are susceptible to manipulation by the websites operating such games and that there is a possibility that users are not playing such games against other players, but against automatic machines or ‘bots’, wherein there is no fair opportunity for an ordinary user to win the game.
Recent High Court Judgements
- Earlier this week, a division bench of the Karnataka High Court delivered a judgment striking down major portions of the Karnataka Police (Amendment) Act, 2021, a new law that was introduced by the State government to ban online gambling and skill-based gaming platforms like rummy, poker and fantasy sports that involved any wagering or risking of money on an uncertain event.
- Apart from Karnataka, a similar law introduced by the Tamil Nadu government was struck down by the Madras High Court in August 2021.
- In September 2021, the Kerala High Court had also quashed a notification issued by the State government specifically banning the game of online rummy when played for stakes.
Regulating online gaming - Need of hour
- The online gaming platforms may do the following:
- Strengthen the Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements,
- Implement an age-rating mechanism that allows minors to progress only with their parents' permission — OTP verification on Aadhaar might help with this;
- There should be no in-game purchases permitted without parental approval, and the in-game chat function should be deactivated whenever feasible
- Gaming businesses should educate consumers about potential hazards and how to spot potential cheating and abuse scenarios ahead of time.
- Participants' anonymity should be abolished, and a comprehensive grievance management system should be developed,
- The industry should also be encouraged to practise different types of self-regulation.