We’re all about online gambling, naturally. So, we want to cover every aspect of online gambling for players in India. That also includes the legality of gambling as such and online gambling specifically. The situation is a little complicated and we’re here to tell you as much as we know about the state of online gambling in India.
There is a legal conundrum when it comes to gambling in India. To begin with, most of the essential laws about gambling are woefully outdated. There are very few laws that apply to online gambling at all and almost all of them apply on the state level, not the federal level.
Which takes us to the next problem: gambling is, for the most part, handled on the state level. Whilst some federal laws are applicable to gambling and online gambling, states generally have the freedom to handle gambling in most of its forms any way they want to.
And indeed, that is what’s happening right now.
In Goa and Sikkim gambling is legalised in pretty much all forms. Additionally, Sikkim, Nagaland and Telangana are the only three states that currently have laws addressing online gambling.
If we’re being honest, most of the legality around gambling and online gambling in India is a bit of a conundrum. But we’ll get into more details in the next paragraphs.
Past and current laws related to gambling
Mostly, you will hear talk about the Public Gaming Act, which dates all the way back to 1867. Needless to say, nobody anticipated online gambling 150 years ago.
The law was mostly concerned with the operation of gambling houses. Not only made it illegal the operation of venues where gambling took place, but also visiting such venues. But even back then a conundrum was created by not giving a precise definition of what constitutes as gambling.
For instance, paragraph 12 of the Act states the following:
“12. Act not to apply to certain games. Nothing in the foregoing provisions of this Act contained shall be held to apply to any game of mere skill wherever played.”
As such, card games such as rummy or poker could be considered legal because of the skill involved. On the other hand, dice games are pure games of chance and require virtually no skill.
We get to that later, though. If you’re interested in reading the full act, visit this page.
Constitution of India
As it is, the Constitution of India does offer a definition of gambling. It says:
“…gambling includes any activity or undertaking whose determination is controlled or influenced by chance or accident or any activity or undertaking which is entered into or undertaken with consciousness of the risk of winning or losing (eg, prize competitions, a wagering contract)…”
Whilst the Public Gaming Act has never been updated and is woefully outdated, a few other laws need to be considered when it comes to the state of gambling in India right now.
Lotteries (Regulation) Act
There is, for instance, the Lotteries (Regulation) Act from 1998, which authorises state governments to hold a maximum of one lottery draw per week within their jurisdiction. This act, incidentally, ignores that lotteries are as pure a game of chance as they come.
Information Technology Act of 2000
We also need to consider the Information Technology Act of 2000. Whilst it does not specifically mention online gambling, it does allow the Indian government to block certain websites in their country that potentially include illegal or offensive online activity.
Consequently, the government has, in the past, instructed Indian ISPs to prevent their customers from accessing foreign betting and gaming sites. Whether that has had any effect is questionable, however.
Foreign Exchange Management Act
Another law directly interfering with the ability of Indian citizens to engage in online gambling is the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) 1999. The act governs the exchange of foreign currency. Under that law, it could be considered a violation to make a deposit at an online casino in any currency other than Indian rupees. It is the main reason why players from India find it difficult to make deposits at foreign online casinos.
At present, there are online gambling laws in Sikkim, Nagaland, Telangana and Maharashtra. Only the latter state completely prohibits. Sikkim, however, was the first state to issue online gambling licenses in 2014.
By the way, just to make things a little more complicated, during festivals there is traditionally an uptake in betting activities and in many states that is legal (including Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and some of the rural parts of other Indian states). In other states, however, gambling during festivals is strictly prohibited (including in J&K, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Sikkim and Assam).
If you want to read a more in-depth article on all the law on Indian gambling, check this out.
What is legal and what are grey areas?
Now that we’ve covered the basics of the laws, what type of gambling is legal in India and where do we enter the grey areas?
Legal and illegal gambling
As we already mentioned, lotteries are legal in India. Whilst it is as pure a game of chance as you can find, apparently, lottery games are attractive enough for everyone involved to have been legalised.
Additionally, bets on horse racing are legal in India. Though this only extends to local races and bets are placed in person at the track.
Currently, casinos operate in Goa and Sikkim, where gambling is indeed legal on the state level. And, as mentioned above, Sikkim has made provisions for online gambling as well.
Surprisingly, gambling on Cricket, arguably India’s national sport, is illegal.
The question of whether card games which can be considered skill games such as rummy and poker has been discussed in various courts throughout the years. Few argue nowadays that rummy is a skill-based game and as such engaging in it cannot be considered illegal. Betting on it is a different question.
And herein lies the problem with poker, which has repeatedly been lumped in with gambling activities that are considered illegal. Whilst poker in itself does require considerable skill, the fact that the game is centred around a pot of money that the winner takes home makes it a gambling activity in the eyes of the law and as such illegal.
The gambling market in India is said to be worth US$60 billion per year, though half of it is probably bet illegally. The online gambling market has reached INR 43.8 billion for 2018 and is only expected to grow.
Unless specifically outlawed in places such as Maharashtra, online gambling is not, strictly speaking illegal. There are laws in existence that make online gambling difficult, but not impossible.
So, with online gambling, we enter a grey area. It’s certainly not made easy in India, but there are quite a few online casinos around nowadays that accept customers from India and allow gambling in rupees as well. That means, players are not restricted through the FEMA act and if a site isn’t blocked by an ISP, there’s nothing really keeping you from gambling online.
How to stay safe gambling online
Since there’s nothing truly preventing you from taking your gambling online, you are certainly free to do so at any of our recommended online gambling sites. Still, legally speaking, there are some things you should do to stay safe.
It’s always important to know the law of the land. Breaking it knowingly will result in fines at the very least, but worse punishments are possible.
First of all, if online gambling is outlawed where you live, don’t gamble. If there are no specific laws related to online gambling, do be sure to not break FEMA regulations. That means, only deposit in rupees. The online casinos we recommend allow for this, so you’re safe here.
Beyond that, of course, only play at online casinos that are well regulated and licensed. Naturally, finding an online casino with an Indian license is nearly impossible. But that doesn’t mean you should play at an unlicensed casino.
Even if a casino has a European license, you have little to worry about as a player from India. You can rely on the casino being well regulated by gambling laws and we make sure to check the trustworthiness of an online gambling operator thoroughly. Casinos licensed in Malta, the UK, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Spain or even Curacao are generally well regulated, even though there are some differences. Licenses from the UK and Sweden carry the highest importance as these jurisdictions are the strictest we know of.
The future of online gambling in India
In recent years, online gambling has been a hotly debated issue in Indian courts but also in the government. There are many ministers still in favour of outlawing any form of gambling, because it promotes crime, money laundering and, of course, causes gambling addiction.
Others, however, don’t believe that the spread of gambling and online gambling, in particular, can be stopped. Instead, they argue, it is better to properly regulate gambling in all forms and issue licenses and levy taxes on the operators, which would be a huge source of revenue for the states and the federal government. With proper regulation in place, laws against money laundering and other perceived issues can be put in place and licensing regulations would also address problematic gambling behaviours, etc.
The truth of the matter is that people gamble. They do so whether it is allowed or not. People in India gamble as well. In fact, as already mentioned, the market is huge. Outlawing gambling will not stop people from placing bets on cricket or playing a hand of online poker.
In the long run, it is the smarter bet to regulate gambling and with more progressive governments, the odds are that this will happen eventually.