December 5, 2023
States cannot regulate online gaming, Minister of State for Electronics & Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar reiterated on Friday.

The Minister, who was speaking on the sidelines of the inauguration of the 6 MV Medical Linear Accelerator (LINAC) System, developed and deployed by Sameer (Society for Applied Microwave Electronics Engineering & Research) in Chennai, said States were authorised to regulate gambling but not online gaming.

“I know Tamil Nadu has come up with a law but it makes no sense to me that a State government will try and regulate a participant on the internet,” he said while addressing the press. “It is not possible. The online gaming rules that have been notified after almost three months of consultation basically say what types of online games are allowed on the Indian internet.”

He went on to add that the three types of games that are not allowed are those online games that involve betting and wagering, addiction and user harm or toxicity against a woman, anti-religion, anti-child and the like.

The Minister’s comments come on the same day that the Delhi High Court heard a plea by a Noida-based NGO Social Organization for Creating Humanity (SOCH) that moved the court against the government’s online gaming rules.

“We have raised (in public interest) some fundamental issues concerning the regulatory confusion surrounding online gambling in this petition,” advocate Akshat Gupta told ET. “The Hon’ble Chief Justice also observed that this is an important issue and the matter has been fixed for early hearing, next week itself.”

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The plea came up for hearing today before a Bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Sanjeev Narula. The Court called on Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Chetan Sharma to assist it in the matter and listed the case for further consideration on July 13.ET had reported on Thursday that the NGO had filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) challenging the constitutional and legislative validity of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2023 in relation to online gaming.

The petition stated that the Rules are beyond the legislative competence of the Union Government as the Constitution gives exclusive powers to states to legislate on ‘gambling and betting’. It said the Central Government’s enactment of rules has led to ‘regulatory confusion’ and a dual set of laws relating to online gaming and said that presently there is no clarity on whether central or state laws should be followed with respect to online gaming.

It also raised concerns over the government’s move to establish Self Regulatory Bodies (SRBs).

“The Rules outsource regulatory powers of the State to SRBs, which would be financed by online gaming companies with a vested self-interest in the regulation of the community, is wholly irrational, arbitrary and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. The Government cannot abdicate its role of overseeing and monitoring of the online gaming sector and outsource its responsibility to private bodies,” the NGO stated in its petition which was filed on July 1 and has been reviewed by ET.

“Online gaming and gambling has become rampant and is particularly plaguing our youth,” Gupta added. “Regulating it, in accordance with law and constitutional provisions and not through private bodies, is the need of the hour.”

At the press briefing on Friday, Chandrasekhar said that the SRB has been tasked with the responsibility to look at every online game and decide whether said game is permissible or not. He explicitly stated that only permissible games will be allowed on the Indian internet. Speaking on the progress of the SRBs, the Minister said that there have been some applications.

“We’ll study it. We’ll see. It is a big, bold experiment we are taking which is allowing an SRB outside the government to regulate a very critical area like online gaming. It is a very sensitive area because it has got addiction, user harm, betting/wagering, illegality… Therefore, it is something that we are going to slowly and carefully get into.”

He went on to say that whether the SRB model will work or not, what the guardrails will be, the accountability requirements for the SRB – all of these were aspects that would have to be carefully thought through.

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