Indian Supreme Court is presently hearing a matter that can decide whether playing online rummy, poker and card games is legal or illegal in India. Further, Supreme Court has already clarified that the stay upon the Madras High Court’s judgment would benefit only the parties to the litigation. This means that till the time Supreme Court actually says that online rummy, online poker and online card games are legal in India, majority of these gaming stakeholders may be exposing themselves to legal risks and civil and criminal liabilities.
Realising the complex legal issues involved in the litigation, the Supreme Court of India referred the matter to Central Government for its opinion. However, Central Government has not provided any formal reply so far and a formal reply is expected from Central Government on12th November 2014, the next data of hearing of this case. The Centre has asked the Supreme Court to adjudicate the matter at its own level citing different judicial decisions and constitutional issues.
Online gambling laws of India are complicated in nature as gambling is a State subject and different State have enacted different laws regarding gambling activities in India. We have a central law on gambling called the Public Gambling Act of 1867. Similarly, we have many state laws on gambling that are mostly based upon the central law. Further, almost all the state laws are regulating real world or offline gambling in India. The exception in this regard can be found in the laws applicable in places like Goa and Sikkim. In Sikkim, a provisional And Regular Licence can be obtained under the Sikkim Online Gaming (Regulation) Act, 2008.
To bring uniformity among various laws regarding gambling in India, the present Law Commission of India is analysing whether the Public Gambling Act of 1867 should be repealed or not. Meanwhile, those engaging in online betting and gambling are at risks of being arrested and prosecuted. Recently the owner of an online betting website for IPL 7 was arrested in Mumbai for allowing betting on his website. Similar arrests have been made by police of Delhi, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, etc. The income tax official also raided four offshore casino vessels and one onshore casino in Panaji. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has also established a Sports Integrity Unit to investigate illegal sports betting in India. The legality of use of Bitcoins for gaming and gambling in India is also doubtful and full of legal risks.
There are certain rules to decide whether online gambling and betting is legal in India or not. There are totally different set of rules for running an online poker website in India. In many cases police in India has arrested people indulging in illegal online betting. In short, legality of online gambling and online gaming is still a grey area that requires extensive legal research and compliances before launching the website in this regard. The Supreme Court of India has to decide these complicated issues in the present litigation. If the SC holds online rummy, online poker and card games for stakes as gambling, the states could prosecute those engaged in such activities within their jurisdictions. However, if the Supreme Court decides in favour of such online games with stakes, then the Central Government would be required to bring uniform legislation for India. That would be a tough task for the Central Government as the proposed legislation must be techno legal in nature to be effective and contemporary. This is the reason why the central government is not willing to take any action in this regard.
World over countries are finding it difficult to regulate online gaming, betting and gambling activities due to conflict of laws in cyberspace. Online gambling and gaming laws and regulations in India and conflict principles would be very difficult to resolve in these circumstances. Other issues that require techno legal legislation skills on the part of Central Government are blocking of illegal gambling websites in India, taxation issues, online gaming regulations, mobile gaming regulations, payment gateways issues, mobile payment issues, mobile applications legal issues, etc.
Those planning to engage in online games including online rummy, online poker, etc must comply with techno legal requirements prescribed by various existing laws of India. Otherwise, they would find themselves on the wrong side of Indian laws.