Societal problems caused by online gambling apps

Online gambling is plunging Indians into penury and forcing people to commit suicides in these trying times. The Centre must ban it

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)

V Venkateswara Rao

The relationship between online gambling and suicide is one of the unacknowledged aspects of Digital India. A UK study found that “problem gamblers” in England were eight times more likely to have attempted suicide than others.

A 28-year-old Chennai man, Dinesh, killed himself on September 14 after losing about Rs 8 lakh in online gambling. A 20-year-old Chennai college student, Nithish Kumar, killed himself in July end after he lost all his savings on a gambling app. A 24-year-old youngster, Madhukar in Mancherial, Telangana, committed suicide in second week of July, after he lost Rs 15 lakh to the fraudsters in an online gambling game. In the same week, a 24-year-old man, Doddi Venkata Aravind in Kotturu village in Visakhapatnam district allegedly killed himself after losing money in online gambling.

Depressed over losing money in an online gambling site, a 32-year-old man from Kerala, Udhayaman, working as a lab technician in Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh, committed suicide by taking sleeping pills in March 2017. Such sad stories are countless.

Online gaming/gambling laws in India prohibit betting or wagering and any act which is intended to aid or facilitate the same. Gaming/gambling being a state subject, the laws differ from one state to another. This would mean what is permitted in one state may be an offence in another. The Public Gambling Act, 1867, is the central enactment on the subject, which has been adopted by certain states of India like Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, etc. This Act prohibits all games of chance except lotteries and games of skill. Other states have enacted their own legislation to regulate gaming/gambling activities within their respective states. It is to be noted that state legislations have been enacted prior to the advent of virtual/online gambling in India and therefore references of gaming/gambling in respective state legislatures are in relation to physical premises only, barring Sikkim and Nagaland which are the only states which have introduced regulations pertaining to online gaming.

Most of the central and state legislations pertaining to lotteries and gambling were enacted at a time when the online medium was almost non-existent and online gambling was not envisaged. There exists a lacuna that leaves room for ambiguous interpretations.

In the State of Andhra Pradesh Vs Satyanarayana (Supreme Court judgment on rummy) case, the game of rummy was held by the Supreme Court to be a game of skill on the ground that unlike ‘three cards’ games of ‘flush’, ‘brag’, etc., which are games of pure chance, rummy primarily involves the preponderance of skill because the fall of cards needs to be memorised and considerable skill is required in holding and discarding cards for building up rummy.

In the 2013 case of Indian Poker Association Vs the State of Karnataka, the Bangalore High Court held, “In respect of the game of poker, if played as a game of skill, the license is not contemplated”. The judgment neither subjects Poker to the skill test nor delves into the question of the legality of Poker laws for stakes or profit.

Online gambling continues to be a grey area in India. Regardless, Indians are gambling in large numbers and the online gambling industry is only thriving.

( V Venkateswara Rao is a retired corporate professional and a freelance writer)

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