A series of suicides by young online game addicts has brought attention back to the difference between skill-based and chance-based games. While the latter are mostly banned, online skill-based games have continued to thrive in India, driving players into a web of debt and subsequently, suicide. Efforts by state governments to ban online gambling with stakes have so far been unsuccessful.
Earlier this year, a decision by the Karnataka government was blocked by the High Court striking down certain provisions of the Karnataka Police (Amendment) Act 2021. Karnataka’s argument that games of skill that pose a risk of losing money to players should also be banned failed to pass judicial scrutiny. A similar decision by the Tamil Nadu government was overturned by the Madras High Court in August 2021. Although the government filed an appeal in the supreme court within months, it has yet to be heard.
In 2020, the High Court of Rajasthan ruled that an online game that bets on the skills and knowledge of the participant cannot be banned. It was later upheld by the Supreme Court. In their separate verdicts, the High Courts of Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and Bombay have recognized fantasy sports as games of skill and a legitimate business activity protected by the Constitution of India.
Most of the arguments in favor of allowing online games of skill refer to a five-decade-old Supreme Court order. In 1967 he held in the state of Andhra Pradesh against K Satyanarayana that rummy and bridge are not entirely games of chance, but of skill, unlike many other games in which the cards are shuffled and distributed.
Recently, the TN government went the extra mile to end the threat of online gambling with stakes, by setting up a panel headed by Judge K Chandru.
She recommended enacting an ordinance banning some online games and regulating others. The committee also recommended that the government insist that New Delhi enact a nationwide law under Section 252 of the Constitution. A ban may be the only way forward since it is impossible to regulate online businesses, but it will surely lead to a deluge of legal challenges.