This article first appeared in the June issue of G3 Interactive Magazine in a special feature covering the IAGA International Gaming Summit.
With 50% of its 1.3 billion population under the age of 25 and over 65% under the age of 35, it’s no surprise that the growing young population is a major contributing factor to the recent unprecedented growth of the online gaming industry in India.
With the increased affordability of data in a market which has historically always had a great propensity to wager and is obsessed with its national sports, it’s clear to see why the industry is thriving.
However, India is at a crossroads and its next step is set to define the country’s role on the global gaming stage. It is a country on the cusp of a widespread regulatory overhaul, but which currently relies on outdated legislation dating back to pre-internet times.
The stumbling block lies in the semantics of gaming law definition, as ‘Gambling,’ the act of betting or wagering for money or money’s worth, is illegal in India.
There are three categories expressly excluded from India’s gambling prohibition laws: horse racing, lotteries (regulated separately) and games of ‘mere skill.’ Certain States, for example Goa, permit forms of gambling offshore on river boats or in five-star resorts that meet strict conditions.
It is the highly debated category of games of ‘mere skill’ which accounts for the majority of the uncertainty for the online gaming sector as technically, games which satisfy the predominance test of ‘skill versus chance’ are not regulated under the current legislations. Businesses operating games of skill are already thriving in the Indian market – albeit in a largely unregulated space. However, many have elected to self-regulate and adopt codes of conduct in line with those adopted by industry federations such as The All Indian Gaming Federation, The Rummy Federation and the Indian Federation of Sports Gaming.
The Supreme Court of India interprets ‘mere skill’ to include games which are preponderantly of skill and has laid down various tests, but they are assessed on a case by case basis which is time consuming and costly.
This does not afford the industry with overarching clarity, certainty or enforceable options so ambiguity prevails. After a report published last July by the Law Commission of India, recommending the regulation of sports betting, there is still uncertainty as to whether the State or central government should take responsibility for this regulation.
So what does the future hold for this incredible market, brimming with enthusiasm and potential not just on a national level, but a global scale?
With the country’s online gaming market estimated to be worth $360 million and expected to rise to $1 billion by 2021 (a conservative estimate), there’s no doubt that the need for adequate regulation is more important than ever. Aside from the critical protection and security it would provide to players, the revenues that could be raised by the country’s government would be substantial.
What is enormously encouraging, is the desire and enthusiasm of the skill game operators electing to self-regulate and to demonstrate they are adopting global best practice despite the lack of governmental framework.
Commentators are certain that widespread regulation is coming, but a collaborative approach between regulators, operators and key stakeholders will be critical to its success.