Betting or gambling is illegal in most of India. While the debate about what gambling is legal and what isn’t continues among gambling experts,India courts, and between States and the Central government, one things is for certain – Indians love to gamble. A recent news report sized the Indian gambling market at Rs. 3 lakh crore ($60 billion USD) annually.
Although a good percentage is wagered legally on horse racing and lottery, a large amount is wagered on cricket and other sports via illegal and “technically illegal” channels. There are many Indian gambling laws which regulate gambling and tell us what forms of gambling are prohibited and which are explicitly allowed.
The primary legislative document that makes gambling in India a ‘grey’ legality is the Public gambling act of 1867. This is an old law created during British rule. While Pakistan has since abolished this rule, our own government has affirmed their commitment to keeping it on the books on many occasions. This 148 year old law makes operating a gambling house, assisting in the operation of a gambling house, visiting a gambling house (whether gambling or not), financing gambling and being in possession of gambling devices a crime. The penalty is a fine not exceeding 200 rupees or up to three months in prison. No person betting in India has ever been charged or sought after.
But irrespective of the law lottery is legal in many states in India. Goa and Sikkim are the two states that have made gambling legal. On 4 March 2009, the Government of Sikkim (Finance, Revenue and Expenditure Department) issued a memorandum known as Sikkim Online Gaming (Regulation) Rules, 2009. This outlines the rules and regulations for online gambling licensing within that state.
But there is no law that makes online betting an illegal activity. Offshore betting companies are apparently using this ‘loophole’ to lure Indians to bet on pretty much everything. The Indian Premier League (IPL) tops their lists now and some websites have even hooked up with offshore betting agencies, thereby allowing Indians to place online bets.
One of the advisory websites, indiabet.com, claims they don’t take bets but help get in touch with international online bookmakers.
Not only matches, you can bet on possibly every aspect of an IPL match, from the toss to how the bowlers will fare and the odds on a batsman scoring a hundred.
The website also suggests the names of online betting agencies such as William Hill, bet365, Ladbrokes and Betfair for placing bets. It also has a video on how to open an online account at one of the betting agencies. To pre-empt possible legal hassles, the website clearly mentions how and why it facilitates online betting.
The question of whether it is legal to bet from India using an international bookmaker is not clear in law. While bookmakers in India are illegal, there is no specific law in India which bans an individual customer from placing an online bet with a bookmaker based outside India.
All these agencies, according to indiabet.com, accept online betting accounts with Indian address. It even goes on to say that bet365, one of the largest betting agencies in the United Kingdom, will ‘accept bets from customers in every state of India’.
According to the Public Gambling Act (1867), all kinds of gambling in India are illegal but unlike in the US where there is the American Internet Gambling Prohibition Act, no specific laws exist in the Indian system that bars online gambling.
It also becomes difficult to catch internet gambling offenders if the websites are hosted by servers located in countries where betting is legal. Enforcing the act becomes difficult if the servers are located offshore.
However, if an Indian resident decides to place bets on a website hosted outside the country, it would be difficult to hold him guilty of online gambling if the laws of the country where the website is hosted, permits online gambling.
So I recommend that India should enact a specific internet gambling law and can also look into the fact that legal gambling under tight regulations can provide revenue to the government. The critics of gambling claim that it leads to crime, corruption and money laundering while those in favor of a regulated gambling system in India argue that it can be a huge source of revenue for the state. It is noteworthy that casinos in Goa contributed Rs. 135 crores to the state revenue in 2013.