The online gaming industry is much larger than the global movie business, and is expected to cross $250 billion (₹18.9 lakh crore) by 2025. It is a vital, growing part of the information technology universe, in which a country like India, with a huge workforce that has missed the manufacturing bus of the labour-intensive kind, can hope to make a place for itself. This calls for, apart from education, creativity, technology and communications infrastructure, a sound, coherent regulatory climate. And that last bit is where the government, and government alone, can play a decisive role.
A segment of the gaming universe is a combination of skill and chance, and involves monetary stakes. Whether this is deemed to be gambling and so banned is a crucial question that calls for definitive regulatory clarity. The Kerala High Court recently ruled that online rummy was essentially a game of skill. The Karnataka government thinks otherwise and has banned the game in that state. The ban is under challenge in the courts. For the purpose of settling such disputes, it is not necessary to go into the question as to whether online betting, per se, should be banned. After all, India’s official ban on betting, whether on cricket matches or election results, has only resulted in loss of tax revenue from a potentially rich source, and in pushing betting underground and into the hands of shadowy operators. Several Indian states permit betting on horse races, probably because that was allowed by the former colonial power; and its seeming genteelness has outlived the colonial power itself. India must abandon its schizophrenia on betting, legalise it, make it transparent and tax it.
In fantasy sports, a player has to allocate a finite budget across players who command different fees, depending on their proficiency, to assemble a performance-optimising team. That calls for skill. In a card game, the hand you are dealt is chance, but how you play your hand is a matter of skill. Even when gambling stays banned, games primarily of skill should be exempt from the gambling label.