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Skill or chance? Definitions haunt gaming

(This story originally appeared in on Jul 07, 2021)

NEW DELHI: Skill or chance? It’s a billion-dollar question that is haunting India’s online gaming industry, and even the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is believed to have stepped into the issue now.

As gaming grows by leaps and bounds in India and attracts private equity and other investments from across the world, the issue has finally boiled down to one simple question — is gaming based on ‘skill’, or it is governed by ‘chance’? If it’s the latter, it’s akin to gambling, which makes it illegal.

Also, how does one differentiate between casual gaming (such as Ludo King, Candy Crush, Dota2) and real-money gaming (such as rummy, poker,

, Dream11) that are based on cards or online fantasy sports.

Industry players, analysts and experts
TOI spoke to say this moot question is keeping the industry’s balance hanging even as it grows at a break-neck speed — especially after the lockdown that saw people confined to homes get hooked to gaming.

Concerns around gambling have seen gaming being banned in such states as Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, where it is seen as being based on ‘chance’. Companies allege that “random definitions and interpretations” are often made in the absence of a clear policy.

While being a state subject, there is no centralised law to make a clear distinction. Efforts to form a centralised regulatory regime has been debated across ministries such as IT and sports, and even NITI Aayog. “A group of ministers, with ministers from various states, has also been formed on the issue. And now the PMO is looking into the matter,” a source said.

Gaming players want the doubts to be sorted out “fair and square”, so that any ambiguity in states is weeded out altogether. While there have been previous legal judgments — including by the Supreme Court, which created a differentiation between gaming and gambling in specific instances — the matter still remains unresolved.

Importantly, Karnataka — the state which houses India’s IT prowess — will soon be deciding its view on the matter. The Karnataka high court has asked the government to come up with its interpretation.

Companies remain hopeful that gaming will get some positive handling by the Karnataka government. “At a time when there is considerable regulatory ambiguity for the online gaming sector, if Karnataka government were to introduce a progressive online skill gaming policy, it will be a great proof-of-concept for other states… This will also reaffirm Supreme Court’s jurisprudence that differentiates between games of skill and games of chance,” Dinker Vashisht, VP at Games24x7, said.

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