Proposed Bill a Good Starting Point
Policy makers in Jaipur have released a draft bill aimed at regulating pay-to-play online sports in the state. The proposed legislation defines virtual sports competitions like fantasy leagues, esports contests and other “derivative” gaming formats.
The Rajasthan Virtual Online Sports (Regulation) Bill, 2022, leaves much work for courts and self-regulatory organisations. Industry bodies are intended as the main promoters of legitimate virtual sports gaming, while a Sports (Gaming) Commission is expected to take over a licensing process with yet unknown rules and standards. The regulatory framework also foresees the self-regulators to cooperate with the Commission in monitoring and handing out fines for rule infringements.
The Bill stops short, however, of dealing with numerous forms of otherwise legal online gambling available through a simple online casino app. Traditional games like rummy, poker, ludo or teen patti have millions of fans and India’s largest state makes no exception.
Extending the scope beyond esports and fantasy leagues does not necessarily mean solving the age-old dispute about skill and chance gaming. State authorities – and indeed, the Center – should aim to establish a level playground for all real-money gaming operators, tax and license those accordingly and keep out unscrupulous ones.
India’s online and mobile gaming scene has literally exploded in the past couple of years. Legal uncertainty from state to state has always kept desi gaming companies on the edge and a forward-looking regulation is definitely what all stakeholders – players, businesses and the public – would welcome and appreciate.
The best part of the proposed Bill is the establishment of a licensing scheme, an approach that can put some order on a market that is constantly at odds with offshore competition and unlicensed gaming apps. Crucially, a sense of urgency to expand the policy’s horizons to all real-money games is easily perceivable, analysts point out. Large amounts of money is won and lost every day without any kind of regulation or even taxation for offshore operators, for that matter.
Consultations have recently ended but amendments are still possible. The role of self-regulatory bodies needs to be better defined as it is currently up to courts of the still nonexistent Commission to recognise them.
An Immense Industry Seeking Stability
Market studies have shown that the most popular smartphones in India are regularly used for playing paid online games. The abundance of casino apps and mobile gaming platforms allows millions of desi consumers to play card classics, table games and casual paid games.
India has risen to the top of global mobile game download rankings, with 17% of the total global share. Consultancies estimate the current used base above 400 million players, with a third of those regularly paying for game sessions, prize pools and competitions. Google Play and Apple’s App Store keep posting consistent growth in their real-money game app downloads.
Half of all active players play in 10-minute session bursts between daily tasks or work breaks. The other half spend up to an hour per sitting or day. Most users download a new game every week and almost all keep several gaming apps on their phone.
For all of the above reasons, paid casual games, gambling staples like card games and various other prize competitions outside virtual sports also need to be regulated properly. This is the only way of having a safe and secure market that protects the public interest.
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