Why The Indian Government Is Unable To Make Gambling Bans Stick

A tug of war between the gambling industry and local Indian governments is developing. There are some examples of regional jurisdictions wanting to introduce a blanket ban on all online gambling, despite widespread evidence suggesting safe and responsible nationwide regulation is the way forward. 

What are the latest legislations regarding gambling regulation in India? Is there a pathway forward for full legislation? Can the Indian government accept all scientific evidence suggesting a blanket ban is ineffective? 

Currently, sports betting, online blackjack and other forms of online gambling are all banned – but is a liberalization on the horizon?

What is the Latest on the Indian Regulatory Front? 

There have been several large-scale attempts to introduce blanket bans on gambling in several states across India, but none have been successful. 

Here are some examples of where moves to outlaw all gambling activity online have backfired:

Karnataka High Court Ruling

The High Court outlawed a blanket ban on all gaming in Karnataka. In its ruling, the court concluded that: “restrictions sought to be imposed by the state in completely banning games of skill were excessive and amounted to paternalism.” 

“The state had not demonstrated that it had considered less restrictive means, such as the feasibility of regulating games of skill.”

Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana Ruling

The High Court of Madras overruled multiple laws banning skill gaming in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana – citing the unconstitutional nature of the measures. 

The court noted: skilled players had the right to exploit their skills and make a living off their skills, and only reasonable restrictions should be imposed on such right.”

“The object of the ban was to protect the public from gambling and betting, which has the potential to be ruinous. However, the State had failed to justify the need for a total prohibition on even games of skill, apart from anecdotal references to suicides and perception of ‘evil’ addiction.”

Why Do Gambling Banning Laws Keep Getting Overruled? 

There is a common theme to every single move to prohibit  online roulette games, blackjack, rummy, and other types of gambling across India – it violates the very beating heart of the country’s constitution.

In India, all prominent judges and courts protect citizens’ rights to practice individual skills.

That leaves regional and national lawmakers in a bit of a bind. Do they continue to limit bettors’ rights to practice their craft, forcing them down more dangerous, prohibited avenues? Or do they pursue robust and sensible regulatory measures that can improve the financial situation of the national economy and help protect players from the trappings of illegal and unsafe gambling rings? 

The answer seems simple, but gambling legalization remains a profoundly divisive sociopolitical issue. 

There is a National Need for Legalization – how can the Government Implement Regulations? 

An article from the National Law Review (NLR) – a verified legal analysis team in India – provided a basic framework from which the government can work to help implement a uniform central law. 

In its article – The Time for a Central Law for India’s Online Gaming Industry is Now – it writes:

“It may appear politically incorrect for any government to actively legislate for regulating skill gaming. There may be several protests. However, there does not appear to be any choice left. Courts have made it clear that skill gaming cannot be banned. State laws are not effective nor desirable.”

The article suggests three avenues:

  1. Utilize the existing powers of the central government to derive power and enact a law on online skill gaming. 
  2. Activate Article 252 of the Constitution of India, which allows two or more States to approach the Parliament to enact laws regulating matters where the Parliament does not have the power to make laws for the States. If two or more states invoke the process under Article 252, the Parliament can enact a law for regulating online skill gaming, which may consequently be adopted by States.
  3. Article 249 of the Constitution provides for a procedure whereby the Parliament may assume legislative authority over a subject in the State List if it has become a subject of ‘national interest’. A resolution would need to be passed by the Rajya Sabha (2/3rd majority) in order for this procedure to be invoked. 

Whichever direction regional governments opt for, there is growing pressure from industry voices to implement a uniform framework to regulate and legalize online gambling in India.

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