Here’s why all online skill games, not just fantasy sports, need regulation

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NITI Aayog, the policy think tank of the government of India, has tabled a proposal for the creation of a single, self-regulatory body for online fantasy sports. In its draft proposal, titled ‘Guiding Principles for the Uniform National-Level Regulation of Online Fantasy Sports Platforms in India,’ the government agency pitched for an independent board that will oversee the online fantasy sports industry and also suggested restricting the games to users of 18 years and above.

NITI Aayog guidelines should cover all online skill games

According to NITI Aayog, the public wants the government to recognize the fantasy sports as an industry with its own identity, and “a single self-regulatory organization for the fantasy sports industry should be recognized by the government.”

Industry bodies, however, are advocating for the inclusion of all skills-based gaming in the regulatory body-not just fantasy sports.

The Online Rummy Federation (TORF) recently recommended that online skills-based games like rummy should be covered in NITI Aayog’s draft policy. TORF Chief Executive Officer Sameer Barde said, “The fast-growing skill based games like rummy, account for approximately 50 per cent of the overall industry revenues. Fantasy sports is a part of the overall skill gaming industry.”

“It is a brilliant move to have fair regulations for the online skill gaming industry in India… But at the same time, it is paramount to understand that fantasy games are only a part of the entire skill gaming industry. There is an equal, if not a larger need, to regulate the broader skill gaming industry,” Barde noted.

Gambling legality in India

The popularity of online gaming in India-be it casual mobile games or skill-based games like Teen Patti, Andar Bahar or rummy-is on an upwards trajectory these past couple of years, particularly during the COVID-19 lockdown as consumers try to take full advantage of the Internet while they’re stuck in their homes.

However, gambling legality in India needs a major overhaul. Since the 1960s, the Supreme Court of India has distinguished game of skill from gambling, upholding the constitutional right to play and offer skill-based games like online rummy. According to Asia Gaming Brief, fantasy sports betting is allowed in most parts of the country, since it is considered a game of skill. The state of Sikkim allows sports betting and online gambling under the Sikkim Online Gaming (Regulation) Act 2008. We have users on a daily basis, that asks us for advice and clarity with regards to the legal landscape. “We have therefore researched and conducted our own analysis thats been presented on a state level on our site”, says Mattias Bergehed, Managing Director at 7Jackpots.com

As TORF and Deloitte report noted, “There is no specific definition of online gambling under the state enactments. However, skill-based or preponderantly skill based games can be played online in all states except the states of Telangana, Assam and Odisha. Furthermore, in the State of Nagaland, these games can be played only on websites that are licensed by the State of Nagaland.”

The NITI Aayog proposal remains in draft stage for now; however, there’s no denying that this move by a government think tank signals a future where an industry is not only validated by the government, but also contributes significantly to the growth of local startups.

Bhavin Pandya, co-founder and CEO of Games24x7, told IANS media service, “NITI Aayog should take a more forward looking view and recommend a framework for all games of skill. Fantasy is one game of skill, and while distinctions have been made in the media between fantasy and other games of skill, the judgements which rule that fantasy is a game of skill are based on the 1996 Supreme Court judgement which rules horseracing and rummy to be games of skill… In law, there is no distinction between fantasy sports and any other game of skill.”