Is it legal to gamble online in India?
Gambling and skill gaming in India are (almost) equally treated in their land-based and online form. Put simply, gambling in India is heavily restricted, except for horse betting and lotteries. Skill gaming is already accepted as legal, but game definitions remain unclear, and platforms frequently operate under the radar.
Sources are unanimous: Gambling is everywhere in India, culturally and historically ever-present, and largely all underground and untaxed. Daily examples range from card games, to animal fights, to national cricket matches. Industry lobby organisations usually quote gambling turnover at $60 billion, but those are usually numbers from 10 years ago and are now probably double that.
Despite all that, old gambling laws from 150 years ago govern gambling and leave many topics unregulated and unclear. The overall situation reminds the American gambling scene, with lower penetration and greater diversification due to the higher total potential user and operator numbers.
Online gambling and casino gaming are not specifically regulated. Those who do it access foreign-based platforms and pay through e-wallets. No-one is persecuted.
The Big Picture
Industry lobby body FICCI has estimated in a 2013 report that the underground market for betting on cricket (only) is roughly worth $40 bln. The total Indian gambling market is being quoted in various sources as being worth around $60 billion, with $40 billion of this coming from the unregulated market. Still, these are the same numbers you see ever since 2009, and considering growth in various channels, economy and inflation, the current total is at least double that.
Regarding legal and transparent gambling, State Lotteries makes up for about $12 to $15 billion, while the largest turnover is generated by horseracing.
Culturally and historically, Indians have always gambled. Gambling during Diwali (an Indian festival) has religious connotations and is considered auspicious. Even courts in India recognise gambling on Diwali, provided it takes place among friends and not in a public place.
Casino Gaming is an umbrella term, that includes slots, table games, etc. Poker and Bingo, along with Sports and Fantasy betting regulations are entrusted to the separate State Governments and their legislators. Skill Games and Competitions are in the same regulatory framework.
Land-based casinos operate in Goa (State in the South-West), Sikkim (State in the Himalayas) and Daman (Administrative District in the West). Initially, according to the Goa, Daman and Diu Public Gambling Act, 1976 casinos could be set up only at five-star hotels or offshore vessels with prior government permission. Nowadays, things are evolving but not in a uniform manner.
The Central Government regulates Lotteries (Lotteries Act, 1988), with additional dispositions by State Governments.
Gambling has been outlawed since 1867 (Public Gaming Act) but punishments are modest – such as 100-200 rupees (1-2 euro) – or moderate, 1-3 months of imprisonment.
Main implications of illegality are based on the distinction between “games of skill” vs “games of chance”. Current gambling laws already permit exceptions for so-called ‘skill-centric’ gambling, i.e. horseracing (!), and lawmakers themselves already recommend that “other skill-centric games” should be granted similar exemptions.
Furthermore, the Information Technology Act (2000) regulates cyber activities in India and prohibits publication or transmission of information that can corrupt people.
This includes online gambling and the punishment for such activities is much more serious than for offline gambling operations – the fine is ₹100,000 (1200 euro) or imprisonment up to 5 years. Explicitly, online gambling is a banned offence only in the state of Maharashtra under the “Bombay Wager Act”.
Online gambling is in its infancy in India. The 3 States that do permit gambling largely concentrate regulations on land-based casinos. A fourth State has begun preparing gambling laws in 2016.
Sikkim (State) had planned to offer three online gambling licences as far as 2010. They postponed the process many times despite enormous interest from operators. Sikkim also permits an online lottery, which takes bets from players throughout India.
In October 2014, the Sikkim state government has issued its first license to an online gambling operator. Future Gaming Solutions, Ltd. will now be able to legally offer real money online betting and gaming services within the state.
The IT Act of 2000 made provisions for various offences relating to online activity, although there’s no specific mention of online gambling being illegal. It does give the Indian government the power to block foreign websites but the Government has used this power to instruct ISP to prevent Indian residents from accessing certain foreign betting and gaming sites, but I don’t know for sure how effective this has been or which sites have been blocked.
Empirical tests have shown us that there are both recognisable names in the sector, as well as numerous operators distinctly Indian operators. I have accessed the following, for example:
- Royal Panda
- Jeet win
The following is a good illustration of what the typical operator scene is in India: several recognisable names and many, many venture players.
Put simply, it is a Jungle in every sense. As a further illustration of the scene, one can look at lists provided by some other Online Casino recommendations sites.
Slotsup.com has about 100 listed.
While casinocountdown.com has more than 220!
There is no law applicable if you’re betting at online websites based outside India. And no law explicitly makes online betting and gambling an illegal activity.
Besides many smaller online casinos, Casino-type gaming is supported and promoted by small game providers. Examples:
One of the more significant obstacles faced by gamblers in India. The majority of users deposit online (sports) bookies using Moneybookers or Neteller. Attempts to deposit using Visa or MasterCard may fail. The same is true of online bank transfers. E-Wallet services have proven a functional way to go. I’m talking about typical options such as Skrill, Neteller, Entropay, Astropay, etc.
Further legal and technical hurdles – Recent developments
There is a definition of gambling in the Constitution of India. In order to change the overall picture, the Government needs to change certain articles in the Constitution, and that is not going to happen. Therefore, the legal base will remain fragmented.
Bookmakers offer services legally at racecourses where operators provide pool betting. Horse racing betting is also legal off course, and betting parlours exist in many parts of the country. This is in stark contrast to the overall stance on gambling. The distinction is made based on the assumption that specific skills are required to know and pick a winning horse and jockey ☺
Despite that, the Lotteries (Regulation) Act of 1998 gives the state governments the right to authorise lotteries within their jurisdictions. And those are games of purest chance. Indeed, the overall approach is not consistent, and I cannot expect it will soon be.
Authorities are aware of the extensive illegal gambling throughout the country. In fact, as recently as July 2018 the Law Commission of India (LCI) urged the Government to legalise gambling and betting.
The LCI is an Executive body of the Government itself, and its function is to work towards legal reform. It was tasked with examining the best way to deal with the country’s “rampant gambling activity”. And it came out with a detailed Report recommending that India should legalise sports betting and gambling to raise badly needed government revenue and reduce problem gambling behaviour.
Among specific recommendations, the LCI distinguished between ‘proper’ and ‘small’ gambling, with ‘proper’ referring to higher gambling stakes. Income thresholds would be introduced with those in mind, and people on social assistance or with low income would be barred from all legal gambling.
Further recommendations include upper limits for gambling deposits, winnings, losses and number of transactions during a given period, etc. All of this depending on individual financial circumstances.
The LCI also recommends that only “Indian-licensed operators from India” be permitted to offer legal gambling. Although, on the other hand, it also claims that laws “encourage Foreign Direct Investment in the casino/online gaming industry”.
Other recent proposals and trends
As late as 2016 seven proposals for casino operations have been submitted to the Andhra Pradesh State Government. Proposals mirror Goa and Daman operations mostly (land and river). The Government has not taken any decision yet, as it needs to change the State Gaming Act of 1974 (which prohibits gambling) before any approvals can be feasible.
Nagaland (State) has a Nagaland Online Gaming Bill that turned into the Nagaland Prohibition of Gambling and Promotion and Regulation of Online Games of Skill Act (2016). The Act has a long list of online games which are now allowed. Any game which focuses more on the skill of the players rather than chance will be legal.
The list includes chess, Sudoku, poker, rummy, virtual sports like cricket, football and fantasy sports league games.
Even as late as August 2017, Courts have defined Fantasy Sports as a skill activity. And everyone in the business expected online gambling to be next.
Online Casino Guides and recommendation websites in India
The above LCI Report notes that IT laws may need to be amended to ensure that technical intermediaries aren’t prosecuted for transmitting or hosting content related to legal gambling.
Among visible competitors, there are some familiar ones such as:
Casino.org, Casinotop10.net, Casinonewsdaily.com.
Typically, they either have separate .in TLD or add sub-sites to their main platform.
And then there are hundreds of affiliates who deal with India exclusively, such as indiabet.com, sportsbetting.net.in and other similar.
Indian online players
As I mentioned, during festival times Gambling is conducted on a major level in India, During festivals such as Deepawali and Holi gambling business upgrade to 30-40% in India. Some states are more strict than others and, even though Courts have been lenient in defining festival gambling a crime, police raids are regularly conducted even during festivals. But all of this regards offline gambling.
Besides sports and local traditions (animal fights, etc.), players opt for card games such as Poker, Rummy (called Paplu), or Teen Patti. Native Casino-type games include Passa, Flish, Andar Bahar.
It is known that even Lord Shiva played the famous game Chaupar.
As far as online gambling is concerned, numbers are difficult to come by but there is a section (below) on Internet and mobile penetration, even related to gaming specifically. It paints a picture of a very low percentage of young users who might be interested or actually practising online gaming.
Sports betting in India
Sports betting is very popular, particularly on cricket, as much as horse racing betting. Casino gambling and playing poker are popular pastimes as well but way behind sports betting. Recently there has even been a major celebrity-driven illegal cricket betting crackdown. Online users choose UK sites, largely, such as Ladbrokes, Paddy Power, William Hill, Bet365, etc.
With over 460 million internet users, India is the second largest online market, ranked only behind China. By 2021, there will be about 635.8 million internet users in India.
However, only 26% of the Indian population accessed the internet in 2015. This is a significant increase in comparison to the previous years, considering the internet penetration rate in India stood at about 10% in 2011. Furthermore, men dominate internet usage in India with 71% to women’s 29%.
Roughly, 1/3 of the population currently use the internet. See below how.
Mobile Internet usage
Below you will find three graphs of the Mobile internet penetration in India:
As you can see from the graphs above, about 16 million people play some type of games on their phone. Indian players are mostly young, and today are probably playing free games or bet on sports.