The Union government’s proposed measures for regulating online gaming in a draft amendment to the Information Technology (Intermediary Liability and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 leave several questions unanswered. Some of these proposed measures, such as the establishment of a self-regulatory body, collection of know-your-customer (KYC) information from players, and appointment of a grievance officer within the company, are already in place. These are moves that industry bodies representing such companies have encouraged. States such as Tamil Nadu want much stricter regulation of the sector than what is being proposed by the Centre in the draft, particularly for gambling with real money. The Centre’s draft remains ambiguous on the question of whether States can have additional restrictions. So far, the industry has staved off several bans by mounting legal challenges arguing that they offer games of skill and not those purely dependent on chance — a tenuous distinction for real money gaming. Still, games that require wagering are outlawed in the physical form under the colonial Public Gambling Act, 1867 or States’ own gambling laws. A clear answer should come from the Union government on whether States are empowered to prohibit these games online as they do offline. While the gaming industry has huge potential as an economic driver of growth in India, there is strong case for robust regulation. Of skill or of chance, all online games impact individuals and society, in the short and the long term.
The government has indicated that the definition of an ‘online game’, which is limited in the draft amendment to wagering platforms, may be expanded in future to include all games broadly. Societies around the world have grappled with the effects of video games on young players, and the addictive cycles that some gamers can get stuck in; China, for instance, has limited the number of hours that young gamers are allowed to play daily, after which they are locked out for the day. Care and restraint must be exercised when pondering similar steps in India, lest the government introduces uncertainty for both small domestic game developers and large international studios with Indian audiences. The government has said the goal is to facilitate the industry and not hinder its growth. It has also indicated that in future, it will try to curb “violent, addictive or sexual content” in video games. There should be widespread public consultation to ensure that economic rights, individual freedoms, and social imperatives remain in balance.