To even begin to understand the concept of India Betting Laws and the legislation (or the lack of it) that governs it, we will first need to understand the country’s ties with regular, tangible, real-life based gambling.
In India, the origins of gambling date back to the Ancient Era. It was a very popular pastime among kings, nobles, and the common folk in those days. Gambling is mentioned in revered Indian epics like The Ramayana and The Mahabharata.
These texts are believed to date back to 2000 BC. Indian rulers even used gambling as a tool to resolve conflict and unite friends and foes.
The practice of betting and wagering has a lot of historical prominence in the country. It was arguably the most common sport of leisure and was the most frequently played. The tradition has since been passed down from generation to generation.
There were board games and other types of gambling games that were invented and played exclusively by the people of India. Dice were made from the nut of a tree called the Vibhitaka (Terminalia Bellirica) because it had five distinct sides to it.
With the arrival of Europeans came fresh new gambling games. Cards games like Teen Patti became popular, as did the rise of betting on sports like horse racing, which is still legal in India. But the arrival of British rule also brought with it very strict rules and laws against most forms of gambling.
The first blow came in the form of The Public Gambling Act of 1867. It outlawed all forms of public gambling, including cards, dice, sports betting (except horse racing), in the name of protecting the poor from a “vice.”
These restrictions, however, were only on paper and it failed to deter people from indulging in gambling. The games became more and more user-centric, and they were played in alleys, streets, residential houses, and village gatherings.
And given the size of India and its population, it was almost impossible for authorities to enforce the law in any meaningful way. The demand for gambling was also very high, as it was an integral part of the socio-cultural fabric. Indians routinely bet on games during special festivals like Diwali and Holi as a tradition.
The British left India in 1947, but unfortunately, many of their laws persist in modern India. This is seriously holding back the growth of healthy gambling industry in the country. especially in sports betting and casino gambling.
Cricket is not just a sport for Indians, but an intense passion or even a religion for many. This sport was brought to India by British colonial rulers in the 18th century, along with other sports like football and horse racing.
In those days, most of the sports betting was focused on horse races, which took place in all corners of the country. It was also helped by the fact that betting on horses was considered legal by the English. Even now, betting on other sports like cricket is only available online in India.
But as sports clubs and leagues grew in the 20th century, other sports like football and cricket started attracting the attention of sports betting enthusiasts. After Independence in 1947, cricket slowly started gaining prominence in the country. But the watershed moment for cricket betting in India came in 1983 when the national team led by Kapil Dev unexpectedly won the World Cup.
This created euphoria in a country that was starved of success in international sporting events and tournaments. Cricket became a religion and players like Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar became revered like gods.
All over the country and overseas, Indians started betting thousands of rupees on their team in international cricket series and tournaments. they think will win every time a cricket match is played. As the gambling fervour around cricket rose to high levels, the prohibition on sports betting drove it underground, with negative effects.
Criminal gangs started getting involved and match-fixing became a recurring theme in Indian and South Asian cricket. The rise of T20 cricket and tournaments like IPL further increased cricket gambling in India. The betting scandals also continued to grow.
With the rise of online betting, Indian punters now have a safe and secure way to bet on all their favorite sports, including cricket.
After centuries of British rule, gambling has come to be considered as taboo or sin by many sections of the society in India. This outlook has persisted even after Independence. The gambling laws in India, especially at the Centre, reflect this sentiment.
But the Central Government is not the sole authority on gambling laws in India. The 29 states and 7 union territories in the country have all been handed the authority and discretion to decide for themselves whether to legalize gambling or not.
In other words, every state has a legislative council and the state government has the freedom to draft gambling laws in India. Indeed, most states in the country do not entertain gambling at all, but they still allow some forms of it such as horse-racing.
Despite the fact that gambling is frowned upon in most parts of the country, betting remains extremely popular. People everywhere indulge in gambling be it legal or not. In a way, history has repeated itself. The restrictions didn’t work when the British imposed them and they certainly aren’t working now. Where there is demand, there is always supply.
The Public Gambling Act, as mentioned before, is a central law which was introduced by the British back in 1867, now, a hundred and forty-eight (148) years later, astonishingly, it is still in effect.
This rule basically dictates that it is illegal and unlawful to run a public gambling house or be in charge of a public gambling house. If a person is found in violation of these terms, he or she will be subject to a fine of 200 rupees and\or imprisonment for a period of up to 3 months.
The rule also includes an added sub-clause which essentially mentions the penalties applicable for any person who visits such illegal gambling houses. This penalty is a fine of 100 rupees and/or imprisonment of up to one month.
The Public Gambling Act is enforced in most states in India. The notable exceptions include states like Maharashtra and Sikkim, who give some leeway for casinos. But the title of the “the most gambling-friendly state of them all” goes to Goa.
India does not have a blanket ban on all kinds of gambling. Instead, the law looks at the aspects of skill vs chance/luck when deciding whether one is legal or illegal. With regards to the difference between skill-based games and luck-based games, the Public Gambling Act quoted,
The competitions where success depends on substantial degree of skill are not ‘gambling’ and despite there being an element of chance if a game is preponderantly a game of skill it would nevertheless be a game of mere skill
By the virtue of this law, a rule was passed in the year 1957 in the case of R.M.D. Chamarbaugwala versus the Union of India, which legalized betting on Horse Racing. It was determined that the knowledge and judgment required to asses and determine which horse would win should be considered a skill and not blind luck.
The ruling of 1957 quote:
The expression “gaming” in the two Acts has to be interpreted in the light of the law laid down by this Court in the two 1957 cases, wherein it has been authoritatively held that a competition which substantially depends on skill is not gambling. Gaming is the act or practise of gambling on a game of chance. It is staking on chance where chance is the controlling factor. ‘Gaming’ in the two Acts would, therefore, mean wagering or betting on games of chance. It would not include games of skill like horse racing”
Once horse racing became legal as a game of skill, it was the turn of another equally popular game to face the same test in the courts. This was the popular card game Rummy, played in houses, clubs, and other locations all over India by millions of players.
They argued that Rummy also required a certain skill-set, in determining what cards to hold onto and what cards to discard. A case soon reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in the State of Andhra Pradesh versus K. Satyanarayana (1968) that 13 Card Rummy was a game of skill that could be legally played in clubs in India. That ruling quoted,
Rummy, on the other hand, requires a certain amount of skill because the fall of the cards has to be memorized and the building up of Rummy requires considerable skill in holding and discarding cards. We cannot, therefore, say that the game of Rummy is a game of entire chance. It is mainly and preponderantly a game of skill. The chance in Rummy is of the same character as the chance in a deal at a game of bridge.
This ruling allowed rummy clubs to charge a small fee for hosting such games. This same rule is used by modern rummy websites in India to host games for players from the country without getting prosecuted by the law.
If we follow this same game of skill logic, it stands to reason that it should also apply to a game like Poker. In fact, it can be argued that poker needs even more skill, judgment, and attention to detail than rummy or horse racing. You have to decide when to bet, hold, or fold while at the same time looking for signs that tell you if an opponent is bluffing.
But, for some unknown reason, after the legalization of Rummy, the Central Government closed shop. They have failed to recognize or rule on the issue of Poker. Essentially, the lack of legislation regarding Poker makes it a kind of a grey area which does not distinctively fall under the legal category or the illegal category, as online poker is still accessible for Indians.
This is the same reason why betting on sports like Cricket remains illegal in India. The failure of the Government to consider the argument that it too requires skill and assessment and is not purely dependent on luck is costing it revenues and depriving players of safe betting platforms.
Cricket betting fans have been contending for years now that horse-racing is easy to fix and vulnerable to corruption. Yet it remains illegal, and their struggle to achieve parity for sports and cricket betting continues as we head into 2020.
At least, there is good news for fans of Rummy in India. Thanks to the 1967 Supreme Court decision which remains unchallenged, Rummy is considered a game of skill. Rummy gambling continues to be fully legal in most states and union territories in India.
This was briefly challenged in 2012 when a Madras High Court ruling declared online rummy with stakes as gambling, and thus illegal. This decision was duly challenged in the Supreme Court which handed down a different verdict in 2015, declaring that the High Court verdict does not stand anymore.
The Supreme Court settled in favour of Rummy players, clubs, and online websites in this ruling. As of 2020, the game of rummy remains legal both offline at clubs and online at popular rummy websites for Indians, but not in all states.
Andhra Pradesh, India’s seventh-biggest state (after the creation of Telangana in 2014) has its law on gambling. Called the Andhra Pradesh Gaming Act of 1974, it legalizes a few forms of gambling while strictly prohibiting most others. The activities permitted under this law include lottery games, rummy, and horse racing.
The law has largely failed in controlling the rise of gambling activity in the state in the last 40+ years. This can be seen from the frequent news of raids and arrests related to illegal gambling. While first-time offenders are let off with a warning and a fine, repeat offenders are dealt with severely.
Sports betting is prohibited in Andhra Pradesh as win-only types of bets, available at most bookies, are not legal. Again, this has not stopped the cricket crazy people of the state from placing cricket bets at illegal bookies.
In November 2014, the government of Andhra Pradesh weighed the pros and cons of legalizing casinos to boost tourism. According to a post by Jay Satya, a student of law in Mumbai, on glaws.in, N. Chandrababu Naidu, the chief of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which leads the Andhra Pradesh government at present, considered proposals to construct casino resorts in Visakhapatnam.
The government liked this idea because it wanted to develop the city as a tourist hotspot. The Deccan Chronicle has also reported that Goa-based casino operators placed several proposals before the government of Andhra Government. JaydevMody, the chairman of Delta Corp, was one of those who proposed the building of a casino resort in Visakhapatnam.
Reportedly, several people who visit Goa to gamble in its legalized and regulated casinos are millionaires from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Thanks to their gambling activities, they contribute a great deal to Goa’s revenue.
Andhra Pradesh would like to retain this cash, and it can do so only by constructing casino resorts and other recreational facilities in Visakhapatnam and developing it as a tourist hub. But these initiatives have not come to anything in the last 4-5 years. A Deccan Chronicle article from 2018 indicated that the Government was not interested in promoting casinos in the state as it would involve making changes to both state laws and requesting exemption from the Centre as well.
Read more on Andhra Pradesh Gambling Laws
Goa is the destination for all those who want to gamble in a secure, legal, and regulated environment in India. The state is home to several casino boats and land casino resorts, and the former offer several table games that are not permitted at land casinos.
The most important gambling law in Goa is the Goa, Daman, and Diu Public Gambling Act of 1976, which gives the Government of Goa the power to authorize “any game of electronic amusement/slot machines in five-star hotels and such gable games and gaming on board in vessels offshore as may be notified, subject to such conditions, including payment of such recurring and non-recurring fees, as may be prescribed.” Casino operators can, therefore, take the permission of the state government, to offer games of chance such as slots in five-star hotels and table games in casino boats.
In 2012, Manohar Parrikar, the chief minister of Goa, approved a new policy for casinos. According to this policy, called the Goa Gambling Amendment Act 2012, no changes will be made to the existing regulatory framework for casinos hosted in five-star hotels. All gambling businesses within Goa are overseen by an independent regulator called Goan Gaming Commission.
However, the government will renew offshore casino licenses that will expire after March 31, 2014, only if these casinos move into the Arabian Sea and out of River Mandovi within the next couple of years. The government also decided not to grant licenses to any new offshore casino or riverboat casino, which would limit their number to just five.
In August 2015, however, the government of Goa granted riverboat casinos time till March 31, 2016, to make the required move to retain their licenses. But none of the casinos has been able to find suitable spots for the relocation of these river casinos. So the Goa Government continues to extend their licences each year.
Recently, the government of Goa also ordered the shutdown of two land casinos because they had lost their five-star certification.
Read more on GOA Gambling Laws
Karnataka is not a gambling-friendly state, though it does have horse betting at the Bangalore Racecourse. Along with the Centre’s law against gambling, the state also has provisions in its Karnataka Police Act (1963) giving the authorities power to curb illegal gambling.
There was a time when lotteries like Playwin freely operated within Karnataka, but the state banned all single-digit lottery games as well as lottery games with multiple draws per week. As a result, Playwin had to quit Karnataka.
Karnataka also made headlines because of its involvement in the 1995 case of MJ Shivani vs. the State of Karnataka, in which the Supreme Court ruled that rummy is a skill-based game and not gambling.
Although Karnataka legalized horse racing as early as the seventies, it has made several efforts to either ban horse betting completely or limits it to a considerable extent. Despite these efforts, horse betting remains legal in the state.
At the metropolitan city of Bangalore is also home to over 500 clubs that host Rummy and Poker games for members. These clubs have frequently attracted the attention of police and authorities who accuse them of conducting illegal games that involve vast sums of money.
The Karnataka High Court has also made its position about the legality of skill-based games quite clear. In 2013, the Court noted in a petition filed by the Indian Poker Association that playing games of skill like Poker in clubs was legal and does not require any license.
Concerning a court order of Jan 7, 2014, in the case of Kirana S and Others vs. the State of Karnataka, H. N. Nagmohan Das, the Karnataka High Court judge, discarded cases filed against 19 people for playing real money rummy games.
Referring heavily to a Karnataka High Court ruling of 1982 in the case of AnantaswamyIyer vs. the State of Karnataka, the judge stated: “The game of rummy with cards is not a game of chance but a game of skill. The collection of commission from the members of the club playing rummy does not make it a gambling house. Thus, it does not amount to any offence.”
Currently, the government of Karnataka is planning to implement stronger laws against illegal gambling. Home Minister K. J. George said that new gambling laws in India are essential as the old ones are weak and archaic.
Read more on Karnataka Gambling Laws
Maharashtra is one of the few Indian states that have a clear set of laws on gambling. This is under the Maharashtra Prevention of Gambling Act, also known as the Bombay Prevention of Gambling Act. While it has legalized lottery games and horse betting, no other form of gambling is legal in the state.
The state has two famous racing venues for horse racing and betting, once in Mumbai and the other in Pune. The horse races here are the most prestigious in India. In 2008, Ladbrokes attempted to obtain a license to run an online racebook in Maharashtra, but the gambling firm did not succeed.
The other most important gambling law in Maharashtra is The Lotteries (Regulation) Act of 1998, which gives the state government the authority to print lottery tickets and supervise lottery sales. Although the state permits Playwin to operate, it has penalized districts and cities for organizing their own lottery games.
Maharashtra, and the metro of Mumbai in particular, is a popular venue for many major sporting events. The Wankhede Cricket Stadium, which hosted the Cricket World Cup of 1987, 1996, and 2011, is the home of the Indian Premier League (IPL) team Mumbai Indians. The fact that Maharashtra hosts several sporting events, but bans sports betting, has given rise to many illegal betting activities, which the state cannot control.
Jaya Satya, a 22-year-old law student in Mumbai, had filed public interest litigation (PIL) for the implementation of better gambling laws in the state. According to his blog, Gambling Laws in India, the Bombay High Court has given the government of Maharashtra two weeks to enforce a 40-year-old law that would legalize casinos and generate wealth for the state.
Jaya Satya found out that the Maharashtra Casinos (Control and Tax) Act was passed in July 1976, but was never notified. This law allows the licensing and taxing of casinos and presents a list of permitted casino games. Online casino gambling is also expressly prohibited under the Maharashtra Prevention of Gambling Act.
Read more on Maharashtra Gambling Laws
This small hilly state in the Himalayan ranges of Northeast India is unique on the Indian gambling scene. It is the only place in India where casinos exist on dry ground. It was only recently that Sikkim decided to develop land-based as well as online casinos in a bid to boost its tourism industry, in 2009 to be precise.
As of 2020, there are three casinos in the state, all in the picturesque capital of Gangtok – Casino Sikkim, Casino Mahjong, and Casino DeltinDenzong. They all offer exciting Vegas-style casino gambling experiences to visitors.
The state also pushed for legalization of online casino gaming. On March 4, 2009, the Finance, Revenue, and Expenditure Department of the Government of Sikkim issued the Sikkim Online Gaming (Regulation) Rules 2009, which contains a regulatory framework for its online casino gaming industry.
On Aug 1, 2009, the government of Sikkim amended the above-mentioned Rules to include betting on sports such as cricket, football, chess, lawn tennis, horse racing, golf, and “other sport games which involve prediction of the results of the sporting events and placing a bet on the outcome, in part or whole, of such sporting event.”
But as the Indian Government’s IT Laws do not allow online gambling across the country, it created some confusion. This was finally cleared in 2014 when the Centre allowed Sikkim to legalize online gambling within its borders. Residents of other states cannot access these gambling services online. This paved the way for granting of licenses to three firms to launch online betting centres in Sikkim, one of which was inaugurated by Kapil Dev in 2016.
Lotteries also have a haven in Sikkim, which legalized them way back in 1998. Many paper lotteries operate in the state in compliance with both local and national laws, and many of these are popular in other states as well. Online lotteries also have a good record of operation in Sikkim.
The most famous brand that contributed the most to Sikkim’s gambling revenue was Playwin, an online lottery site that attracts players from all over India. Run by the Essel Group it grabbed attention with its huge jackpot wins. But as of 2019, Playwin was ordered to pause by the National Company Law Tribunal, due to non-payment of loans.
Despite having legalized online casino gaming and online sports betting, Sikkim does not have any other online gambling site because operators are terrified of land-based bookies. While offshore bookmakers continue to accept bets from Indian players, they refrain from advertising their products in India out of fear of land-based bookmakers in Sikkim.
Read more on Sikkim Gambling Laws
The southern state is famous for its rich history and culture, with a strong tradition of gambling, especially in traditional sports like cock-fighting. But aside from horse racing at the historic race clubs in Chennai and Ooty, most other forms of gambling/betting are illegal in Tamil Nadu.
The racecourse at Chennai is the oldest in the country, constructed as the Guindy Race Course in 1777. As for the other establishment in Ooty, it is famous as one of the loveliest racecourses in India, nestled in the cool green hills of the Nilgiris. Constructed at a height of 2.3kms above sea level, it is famous for an event called the Nilgiri Gold Cup Race.
The people of Tamil Nadu are very fond of organizing and betting on cockfights although it is very much against the law. A cockfight comprises three rounds of 20 minutes each. The sport is illegal not only because it is cruel to the birds that are forced to participate, but also because it constitutes gambling. Residents are also fond of playing Teen Patti and Rummy for real money although it is against the law.
Casinos and gaming houses are illegal in the state, under the Tamil Nadu Gaming Act of 1930. In 2019, the Madras High Court ruled that games of skill like rummy and poker played for stakes is not a violation of this law. But if they are played in a gaming house, the players and the owner of the establishment can be punished. The ruling quoted,
Gaming does not include a lottery but includes wagering or betting. It is very clear that profit or gain is the primordial requisite for running a common gaming house. Unless and until proven by the prosecution that there was profit or gain by the owner or occupier of the place, the same would not come under the definition of common gaming house.
Tamil Nadu is the only Indian state that has created a law against prize schemes. It has passed a law called The Tamil Nadu Prize Schemes (Prohibition) Act in 1979. This law makes it illegal for companies to give away prizes related to the sale of their products. Those found guilty of breaking this law could face a prison term of up to three years.
This law prevented the residents of Tamil Nadu from taking part in a Pepsi Co. promotion, in which participants stood the opportunity of winning a prize of Rs. 1 crore. The incident attracted widespread media attention.
Read more on Tamil Nadu Gambling Laws
Telangana is a new state carved out of Andhra Pradesh in 2014. The state adopted many laws from Andhra Pradesh, including the strict laws against gambling we mentioned earlier in our section on Andhra Pradesh. Further, the newly formed government took a policy decision to crack down on illegal gambling clubs and other activities in the state in 2014.
Licenses of outfits organizing illegal games were cancelled. The police initiated strict measures against gambling dens, particularly those involved in illegal Matka, a type of traditional lottery gambling based on random numbers. It was quite clear from the outset that the new state doesn’t take kindly to gambling activities although its residents are fond of playing Matka, Teen Patti, and Rummy.
At the same time, Telangana is home to some influential people and companies that operate illegal gambling businesses. Illegal gambling outfits are located in places such as Lower Tank Bund, Begumpet, Banjara Hills, Bowenpally Saidabad, Koti, Malakpet, and others. The police department tends to ignore these outfits and chooses to crack down on the smaller clubs, which are shut down for a few days only to be re-opened later.
Unregulated and unlicensed gambling businesses are destroying the financial lives of thousands of families in places such as Champapet and Saidabad in Telangana. In April 2015, the High Court of Hyderabad urged the government of Telangana to create better tax laws for the horse betting industry to prevent leakage of revenue. Currently, the industry is being governed under the rules framed by Hyderabad in 1858.
The state also took strict measures against the rise of online gambling, following complaints by many citizens in 2017. Several ordinances were passed by the state legislature that year and approved by the Governor. Called the Telangana Gaming (Second Amendment) Ordinance, 2017, they outlawed all forms of online gambling, included skill-based games like rummy and poker. As of 2020, Telangana has some of the strictest laws against gambling in India.
Read more on Telangana Gambling Laws
The huge state of Uttar Pradesh, one of the most highly populated states of India, has always had a special relationship gambling in many forms. The locals are very fond of placing bets on traditional local sports as well as cricket. Unfortunately, the state has made no move to legalize any form of gambling.
This has contributed to the rise of a large number of illegal and unscrupulous outfits involved in organizing illegal gambling businesses all over the state. They accept bets illegally through innocent-looking shops, websites, as well as over the telephone. One often reads news of how law-enforcement agencies conduct raids on illegal gambling dens and arrest people for involvement in illegal gambling activities.
The people of Uttar Pradesh are fond of betting on poker, rummy, and other games. Over the years, the government of Uttar Pradesh has mulled over the pros and cons of legalizing casinos in a bid to boost tourism. In 2005, a campaign was launched to develop a casino property close to the Taj Mahal, but the plan was never put to action.
The idea of opening a casino resort struck the Uttar Pradesh government only because neighbouring states were planning to do the same and the government did not want to lose its tourists to these states. When those states abandoned their casino plans, the government of Uttar Pradesh did the same and forgot all about it. No new plans have been mooted since 2005.
Meanwhile, the people of Uttar Pradesh continue to place and receive bets illegally on horse racing events and cricket matches. This is causing a lot of anguish to families that have lost money in betting activities. Many believe that the government of Uttar Pradesh can solve these problems only by legalizing at least some forms of gambling.
But by and large, the government has chosen to ignore the problem altogether.
Read more on Uttar Pradesh Gambling Laws
The people of West Bengal are known for their fanatic devotion to popular team sports like Cricket and Football in particular. The latter in particular has a huge fan following in the state. The fans love watching and betting on football and cricket matches although the state has not legalized any form of gambling.
Horse Betting is legal and quite popular at the Racing Club in Kolkata, one of the oldest in India. It is one of the few forms of gambling/betting that is officially sanctioned in one of the biggest states in India.
Interestingly, the state has a poker friendly law that only a few have noticed. The West Bengal Prize Competition and Gambling Act of 1957 undoubtedly make all varieties of betting and gambling illegal. However, Section 2 (1) (b) of this law excludes all games of skill such as nap, rummy, bridge, and poker.
This exclusion of poker indicates that it is quite legal to conduct games of poker in West Bengal, even for real money. Legally, it is possible to run poker games in Kolkata, which has a large number of poker enthusiasts.
However, even if someone wants to run poker games in West Bengal, they must remember than Section 12 of the same Act requires them to first obtain the permission of the Police Commissioner of Kolkata or the District Magistrate of the district in which they want to host a skill-based game.
This is essential because the police department doesn’t take the trouble of ascertaining whether a game that is being conducted is a game of chance or skill. They just assume it to be illegal gambling and arrest owners, hosts, and participants.
Besides, those who want to run a game of poker need to get an amusement or entertainment license from the authorities according to the Bengal Amusements Act of 1922. Licenses to conduct games such as video games, pool tables, and so on requires an entertainment license issued by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.
The gambling laws of West Bengal also require appropriate licenses from the municipal authorities, police force, and district magistrate. Even if a court rejects an application for a poker license, it can be challenged in a higher court.
Read more on West Bengal Gambling Laws