Last Updated by Jay on January 9, 2017
To even begin to understand the concept of online gambling in India 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.
History of Gambling in India
In India, the origins of gambling date back to the times of the kings. Even the most revered and monumental works of mythological literature such as The Ramayana and The Mahabharata have mentioned the wide spread popularity of gambling among both the royal and the common-man communities. In fact, some of the biggest decisions the kings ever made were determined by chance, a roll of the dice.
These accounts are believed to date back to 2000 BC. The Indian rulers supposedly 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. Dices were made from the nut of a tree called the Vibhitaka (Terminalia Bellirica) because it had five distinct sides to it. Gambling that involved animals such as horse-racing was and still is rampant and legal.
As the years rolled on by, there arose a need to discipline gambling activity, the turn of the 15th century brought along with it some structure to the practice. Gambling houses were officially declared legal. Predominantly all the Indian casino games that one may see today were all invented during this time.
Cricket Gambling in India
The 18th century marked the entry of the British who brought with them the game of cricket, a sport that has now become the heartbeat of the country. Cricket is regarded a religion by most Indians and cricketers are treated like gods.
The introduction and success of cricket paved the way for the inevitable success of sports betting, which today cricket is only available to bet online. All over the country, Indians bet thousands of rupees on the team they think will win every time a cricket match is played. These were good days for gamblers. They had no restrictions whatsoever, only plenty of opportunities.
Alas, the party soon came to an abrupt ending when the British took over the country and outlawed gambling in all its forms in the year 1867 (The Public Gambling Act).
The restriction, however, was only on paper and it actually failed to prohibit people from indulging in gambling, the gambling games became more and more user-centric, and they were played in alleys, streets, residential houses and village gatherings.
The demand was far too huge and the law enforcement had no pragmatic way of apprehending, controlling or enforcing the restriction given the sheer population of the nation .
The great country that housed billions finally got her freedom from the British, after being under the English for nearly 89 years, in 1947, India was declared independent. The restrictions against gambling, however, were not uplifted. The government wrote-off gambling as an addiction, an evil and something that would ruin families.
Present Day Gambling Laws in India
Generally speaking, the outlook of the nation hasn’t changed dramatically since. The layman would still consider gambling taboo or maybe even a sin. The laws on the federal level reflect this sentiment.
However, the 29 states and 7 union territories that the country is divided into 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 laws on different subjects. It is true that 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, although states like Maharashtra or Sikkim give some room for casinos. Still, Goa remains to be the most gambling friendly state of all.
Rummy Gambling in India
For those that are fans of the card game Rummy, there is some good news. Not too long ago, the Supreme Court of India recognized the difference between games that are purely decided on luck and games, such as Rummy, which require a bit of skill along with luck, they then allowed for legislation that differentiated the two types of games. And so Rummy gambling remains legal in the present.
Understandably, games like Rummy, which was said to require specific skillsets such as holding the right cards and discarding the right cards are not subjected to severe prohibition, at least not to the extent faced by other “purely luck based” games.
Gambling on Games of Skill is Legal
With regards to the difference between skill-based games and luck-based games, the Public Gambling Act quotes ,
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 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 as luck .
The rule of 1957 quoted, “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 practice 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”
After betting on horse racing was not considered gambling and was legalized because it was deemed that it required a certain level of skill, Rummy lovers all over the country started to contest that Rummy required a certain skill-set too. They maintained that Rummy required judgment to determine what cards to hold onto and what cards to discard.
The Government simply could not argue this point. In 1968, the Central Government passed a bill which legalized Rummy as it was determined to be a game of skill. Find below the exact law as it is quoted in the official law books of the country.
“Rummy, on the other hand, requires 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.”
Now, it is obvious that this reasoning can also apply to a game like Poker. Poker requires judgment to asses when to fold or when to continue. It also relies heavily on the ability of a player being able to recognize the bluff of another player. Some may even argue that Poker in fact requires more skill than Horse Racing or Rummy.
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.
Similarly, betting on sports like Cricket remains illegal due to the failure of the Government to consider the argument that it too requires skill and assessment and is not purely dependent on luck. Cricket betting fans have been contending for years now that horse-racing is easy to fix and vulnerable to corruption but it remains legal, they are seeking to acquire the same legal statues for Cricket and sports betting in general.
Gambling Laws in India by State
Andhra Pradesh, which is India’s fifth biggest state, has legalized some forms of gambling under its Gaming Act of 1974. Although the state generally frowns upon gambling, it permits state lottery games, rummy, and horse racing.
The law, however, does not prevent the residents from indulging in several forms of illegal betting, owing to which the news is full 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 illegal in Andhra Pradesh as the state does not permit win-only types of bets available at most bookies. Still, this doesn’t stop the cricket crazy people of Andhra Pradesh 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. Jaydev Mody, 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.
Read more on Andhra Pradesh Gambling Laws
Goa is the destination of 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.
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. Ever since 2007, the state has been making several attempts to either limit or completely ban forms of gambling such as horse racing and lottery games.
There was a time when 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 limit it to a considerable extent. In spite of these efforts, horse betting remains legal in the state.
The Karnataka High Court has also made its position about the legality of skill-based games quite clear. With regard to 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 Anantaswamy Iyer 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 laws are essential as the old ones are weak and archaic.
Read more on Karnataka Gambling Laws
Maharashtra has legalized lottery games and horse betting. No other form of gambling is legal in the state. The Bombay Wager Act makes a mention of online gambling and says that running online gambling businesses is against the law in Maharashtra. The only gambling laws in Maharashtra worth talking about are those related to horse racing and horse betting.
In 2008, Ladbrokes made an attempt to obtain a license to run an online racebook in Maharashtra, but the gambling firm did not succeed.
The 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 is widely acclaimed as the host of several sporting events. Informal betting games such as Matka also originated in the state. 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 a number of illegal betting activities, which the state cannot control.
Jaya Satya, a 22-year-old law student in Mumbai, had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) for the implementation of better gambling laws in the state. According to his blog, Gambling Laws of 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.
Read more on Maharashtra Gambling Laws
It was only recently that Sikkim decided to develop land-based as well as online casinos in a bid to boost its tourism industry. The brand that contributes the most to Sikkim’s gambling revenue is Playwin, an online lottery site that attracts players from all over India.
Currently, the government is planning to grant three online sports betting licenses.
In March 2009, Casino Sikkim was launched and the government of Sikkim declared that it is willing to grant seven more licenses.
Casino Sikkim, which prevents wealthy Indian gamblers from traveling all the way to Nepal or Goa, offers a Vegas style gambling experience. The gambling facility features an excellent ambience, several varieties of casino games, and trained croupiers.
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 in whole, of such sporting event.”
Playwin is the only online gambling site currently operating from Sikkim, but Jay Satya, who runs a blog called glaws.in, says that the government has issued four provisional licenses. These licensees can start operating as soon as they meet the legal and technical requirements.
In spite of 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
Most forms of gambling are illegal in Tamil Nadu although its residents are fond of betting. The state is home to two horse racing tracks””Ooty Racecourse and Madras Racecourse.
The credit of being the oldest racecourse in the country goes to the latter, which was constructed in 1777. Its history, especially during its first 100 years, was far from peaceful. In 1887, the racecourse was restored, and ever since, it has hosted exciting racing events such as the famous Hyderabad Race Club Cup. The racing season at Madras Racecourse begins in November and ends in March.
The credit of being the loveliest racecourse in India goes to the Ooty Racecourse, 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 fond of organizing and betting on cock fights although it is very much against the law. A cock fight 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.
Tamil Nadu attracted media attention because it 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.
Tamil Nadu is the only Indian state that has created a law against prize schemes. 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.
Read more on Tamil Nadu Gambling Laws
The people of West Bengal are fond of watching and betting on football and cricket matches although the state has not legalized any form of gambling. 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 makes 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.
In addition, 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
Telangana doesn’t have any gambling laws worth speaking about. Most of its gambling laws are old and outdated, copied from the law books of Hyderabad, the state from which it separated recently.
According to a news report of September 18, 2014, the police department had cracked down on illegal gambling activities such as playing Matka for real money.
Licenses of outfits organizing illegal games were cancelled. Anurag Sharma, the DGP of Telangana, urged the SPs of the ten districts of the state to maintain law and order in their jurisdictions and penalize those organizing illegal gambling activities. The DGP said that action will be taken against law-enforcement agents if residents of their jurisdictions complain of illegal Matka dens or any other illegal gambling activity.
New reports such as the above clearly indicate that Telangana doesn’t take kindly to gambling activities although its residents are fond of playing Matka, Teen Patti, and Rummy. Recently, K. Chandrasekhar Rao, the chief minister of Telangana, announced that recreation clubs that run gambling activities will be shut down permanently.
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 1358.
Read more on Telangana Gambling Laws
The residents of Uttar Pradesh, one of the most highly populated states of India, 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.
The residents’ love for gambling has attracted to the state a large number of illegal and unscrupulous outfits that organize 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.
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 neighboring states were planning to do the same and the government did not want to lose its tourists to these states. Since the neighboring states abandoned their casino plans, the government of Uttar Pradesh did the same and forgot all about it.
The government has not made any other attempt to legalize land-based casino gaming or any other form of gambling after this half-hearted attempt of 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 are of the opinion that the government of Uttar Pradesh can solve these problems only by legalizing at least some forms of gambling.
Read more on Uttar Pradesh Gambling Laws
 Wikipedia.org, Gambling in India, 2015
 Sportsbetting.net.in, Gambling Laws, 2015
 Investinindia.com, Gambling Laws in India, 2014
 Telegraphindia.com, To Bet or Not to Bet, 2015
 Blog.ficci.com, Sports Betting in India FAQ, 2013
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Author: Jay Samaya