Is it Legal to Play Online Casino in India?
All right, guys. Most of you know about me as a fun kind of writer who will try to keep things as exciting as possible. But today, that won’t be the case. I will be speaking about a very serious issue and that requires our utmost concentration: is online gambling legal in India?
So, without further delay, let’s get started!
The Legal Environment of Online Gambling In India 2019
Right off the bat, online gambling in India is heavily restricted but there are no precise laws stating the same exactly, except for horse betting, and lotteries. Skill-based gambling games are also legal, but game definitions remain unclear, and platforms frequently operate under the radar.
But as you may very well know, 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 and even betting on Pro Kabaddi League. We have all heard of stories where someone we know played poker in an underground club and won lakhs in just one night. And then, we may also know people who have made a fortune in sports betting.
Despite these massive developments driven by technology and the rise in the number of betting enthusiasts in the country, old gambling laws from 150 years ago continue to govern gambling – online and physical, and leave many topics unregulated and unclear.
Online gambling, cricket betting, and casino gaming fall under this category – they are not explicitly regulated and legal; it is a grey area. Those who do it access foreign-based platforms and pay through e-wallets. No-one is persecuted.
From the general trends, our law system is more interested in catching the culprits who gamble physically: we are talking about bookies, underground clubs, and so on. (Think of the movie Jannat – if only our hero had gambled online, that cop wouldn’t be behind him!).
The Big Picture: There is Money in Gambling!
Industry lobby body FICCI has estimated in a 2013 report that the underground market for betting on cricket (only) is roughly worth $40 billion. The total Indian gambling market is being quoted in various sources as being worth around $60 billion, with more than 75% of this coming from unregulated markets. Can you imagine this? All across the country, we have people betting and gambling, and it is absolutely not governed!
Still, these are the same numbers from 2009, and considering growth in various channels, economy and inflation, the current total is at least double that. My best is that it is well above $80 billion on the whole – I’ll buy you a beer if it isn’t!
Coming to legal and transparent gambling, State Lotteries makes up for about $12 to $15 billion, while the largest turnover is generated by horse racing. However, I find this to be a quite hypocrite as I’m allowed to bet on a horse that will win, but it’s not legal for me to do something similar on a team of my choice. Why the distinction between animals and humans, even if the sport is the same?
The Legality of Casino Gaming
Casino Gaming is an umbrella term that includes slots, table games, etc. Poker and rummy, along with sports and fantasy betting (Dream 11 and so on) regulations are entrusted to the separate State Governments and their legislators. These games are considered to be games of skill and as such, have provisions within the law, making them legal to be played online.
Land-based casinos operate in Goa, Sikkim, and Daman. 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 – or moderate, 1-3 months of imprisonment. In other words, we are still being governed by gambling laws from over 100 years ago but then again, a lot of our culture is still dictated by old customs and laws.
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. horse racing, poker, rummy, fantasy sports betting, et cetera.
This has paved way for the lawmakers themselves to 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. However, there is no clause as such that speaks about online gambling explicitly.
This includes online gambling and the punishment for such activities is much more serious than for offline gambling operations – the fine is ₹100,000 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 casinos and their Legal Status India
Online gambling is in its early stages in India. The three States that do permit gambling largely concentrate regulations on land-based casinos. A fourth State has begun preparing gambling laws in 2016.
Sikkim 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. It is for this reason that we see sites like Adda52, KheloPoker, and other legal poker and rummy sites based in Sikkim.
The IT Act of 2000
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 providers 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.
For the most part, it is the operator itself that blocks the website in India. That is, if you were to visit such a site, you would see a message along the lines of ‘our platform is not available in your geography.’
So far, there are plenty of online casinos who are offering online gambling services to Indian audiences. They can be accessed rather easily and you can play any game of your choice. Personally, I’ve tried all of these sites and never really faced an issue when it came to depositing money or doing KYC, for that matter:
The following is a good illustration of what the typical operator scene is in India: several recognisable names and many, many venture players.
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. It means that theoretically, you can bet on these leading casino platforms online, without running the risk of getting caught.
One of the more significant obstacles faced by gamblers in India is payment options. Even if I have had issues trying to deposit money at times with my card and that’s why I had to resort to e-wallets. It is because of the RBI, which has instructed the banks and payment gateways to not process transactions related to gambling and online casino sites.
The majority of users deposit online (sports) bookies using Skrill or Neteller. Attempts to deposit using Visa or MasterCard may fail and 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, Muchbetter, Entropay, Astropay, etc.
Further legal and Technical Hurdles
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 what it is today. Plus, I’m certain that the government has got more serious laws to look after.
In many ways, the present legal scene that we have in India is hypocritical. Bookmakers offer services legally at racecourses where operators provide pool betting. Horse racing betting is also legal of course, and betting parlours exist in many parts of the country. The only reason it is legal is because of the assumption that specific skills are required to know and pick a winning horse and jockey.
Taxation May be an Issue
The reason why a few games are made legal is that they can be taxed easily. The Lotteries (Regulation) Act of 1998 gives the state governments the right to authorise lotteries within their jurisdictions, including laying down the tax clauses. And this happens, despite being a game of pure chance. Even if someone were to win a crore out of sheer luck, the winnings will be taxed by the government as they can track the winner easily.
Similarly, when I played poker online at an Indian site, a TDS was automatically deducted on my winnings. I’m sure the same goes for other ‘legal’ gambling games like Rummy and Dream 11 too, where your winnings are taxed at the source itself. Doing so online where there are a plethora of operators is a bit difficult, at least for the time being. We need to have a more advanced technological framework to support this kind of environment.
Furthermore, the reason why online gambling is heavily frowned upon is because of its connection to money laundering and other negative connotations. But if developed countries like Germany, United Kingdom, Spain, and others can find a way to legalise online casinos and betting, while ensuring that their people do not succumb to the dark underside of gambling, then why can’t we? We can start with commitment to responsible gambling and proceed from there. The taboo needs to be broken.
Efforts by Law Commission of India
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.”
It is quite refreshing, fascinating read that restores your faith that someday, all of this will be completely legal. Although, we don’t know for sure when that day will come.
Tradition vs. The Law?
During festival times Gambling is conducted on a major level in India, During festivals such as Diwali and Holi, gambling business upgrade to 30-40% in India. Even I’ve played poker with my friends on Diwali – it is a custom for us to appease the Goddess of Wealth! 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.
It is known that even Lord Shiva played the famous game Chaupar. Then of course, we have betting instances from the Mahabharata too!
As far as online casino is concerned, numbers are difficult to come by but there is a section (below) on the 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 in or actually practising online gaming.
The Popularity of Sports betting in India
Sports betting is very popular, particularly on cricket, as much as horse racing betting. By the day, football, tennis, and other forms of sports betting are also picking up. 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.
Internet Penetration – The Boom in Gambling Market
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. 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. This is another reason why we see so many mobile or app based casinos – the operators know that if they manage to provide us with the option to bet on our smartphones, it is a win-win!
All of these numbers point to one simple inevitability – that sooner or later, concrete steps will be taken to address the legality of online gambling in India. With the surge in the number of people who have access to the Internet, and our historical connection to gambling, it is going to be hard to completely make gambling illegal.
Instead, what can be done is we address the pain points like taxation, money laundering, gambling responsibly, addiction, and so on, and create a fun, nurturing an environment where people can gamble with ease, without worrying about the bad side.
Are You Ready to Take The Leap?
With this article, I hope you have become smarter in terms of legality. It is a grey zone and it is up to you whether you want to play casino online or not. At Guide2Gambling we have reviewed and listed trusted offshore casinos. The sites displayed below are casinos I personally have played on, they are all licensed by trusted jurisdictions such as UK, Sweden or Malta.
If you are completely new to online casino gambling, then I recommend going to the Homepage of G2G. If you scroll on this page you will find guides to casino games, payment methods and much much more!
Good luck and remember to always play responsibly!
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