Legal Status of Gambling in India
By Shweta Nair
For entertainment, one of the most popular and favourite option among people is gambling. It is considered by many as a pleasurable pastime yet it also carries with it a negative outlook as it’s a game wherein money is put at risk. Recently, due to the pandemic situation, there has been a profound increase in online gambling activities owing to the comfort of playing while sitting at home and earning money easily through the use of mobile phones and internet. Nevertheless, it also led to upsurge in money laundering and black money too.
In India, the law which regulates gambling is ‘The Public Gambling Act of 1867’ which was enacted during the British times and is still in force. It is a Central Legislation that covers certain states of India wherein all games of chance have been prohibited entirely except lottery and game of skills excluding the states of Goa and Sikkim. Infringing provisions of this act would attract punishment of jail up to 3 months and fine up to Rs. 200. However, ‘gambling’ comes under Part 2 of the state list which means that the state governments would have the power to formulate their own state laws regarding gambling activity and regulate and govern such within their own territories. Such a power has been granted under List 2 of the seventh schedule of the Constitution. Therefore, the state would have complete control on such activities.
Gambling has not been defined anywhere. According to Cambridge Dictionary, it means an activity involving risking of money on the result of something. Though there are many types of gambling like casino gambling, horse racing, lottery, online gambling etc.
Mainly, gambling is divided into two types: Game of Skill and Game of Chance.
Game of Skill as defined in Dr. R.K. Lakshmanan v. State of Tamil Nadu AIR 2005 MAD 261 implies that certain level of skill is necessary for playing it and success is determined upon knowledge, training, experience, attention of the player and not just mere luck. Game of Skill involves horse racing, dog racing and later even rummy was introduced in it as per the judgement of the Supreme Court in State of Andhra Pradesh v. K. Satyanarayana and Ors. AIR 1968 SC 825. Such type of gambling wherein skill is required have been declared as legal in some states of India.
Game of Chance involve no skill and are merely based on a person’s luck. Such games are considered illegal in India and involve Casino Gambling. Casino gambling however has been declared as legal in Goa and Sikkim only to a limited extent which will require state approved licence and fees to be paid to the state authorities. In Goa, it can be played only in five-star hotels or on the board of a ship.
Currently, when all are sitting at home, the usage of online gambling websites has considerably swelled up. People resort to such activities online in order to gain quick money in such financial crisis during the pandemic. But is it legal in India? It is quite confusing since The Gambling Act of India was passed during the British era and therefore online gambling could not have been included as it was not in trend in those days. Thus, there are no such regulations pertaining to it under the act. But Online Gambling has been legalised in the state of Sikkim. As far as other parts of India are concerned, there is nowhere any restriction regarding playing online gambling as it has not been declared illegal yet.
Recently, in July 2018, gambling and betting was requested to be declared as legal in India by the Law Commission of India as it would be beneficial for the government to raise revenue and also decrease problematic gambling behaviour.
Regarding the current status of gambling, only Sikkim, Daman, Nagaland and Goa have legalised online gambling and land-based casinos. Maharashtra has banned gambling entirely and Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have banned gambling with regard to game of chance and declared it illegal. Lottery has been considered legal in several states of India including horse racing. However, it is pertinent to note that there is a lot of confusion regarding the legality of gambling in India. Despite of the gambling act and separate state laws on gambling, yet there is lack of clarity as several people get into gambling activities through internet as there is no law barring it. Thus, there is an urgent need to amend and bring in a new law containing detailed provisions on gambling activities in India.