December 5, 2023
The government has taken a decision to certify “what is a permissible online game” until the self-regulatory organisation (SRO) is formed by the gaming industry, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, minister of state for electronics and IT (MeitY), told ET. A notification to this effect will be sent to platforms such as Google and Apple on Tuesday or Wednesday.

This follows an ET report on Tuesday that Apple hasn’t complied in full with the MeitY order in February banning 138 betting games citing lack of regulatory clarity. Many of the banned apps continue to be available on the company’s app store, ET reported. “What the article has alerted us to is that we can’t keep things hanging, waiting for an SRO,” said Chandrasekhar. “In the interim, the government can certify what is a permissible game, what is wagering, what is not wagering.”

He added that the central government will write to all major internet intermediaries, including Apple and Google, asking them to approach MeitY in case there is confusion on takedown orders with respect to real money gaming, gambling and betting apps.

“The whole idea was that the SRO will help intermediaries, be it Apple or Google to determine what is a permissible online game, but the SRO will take 2-3 months to be finalised,” said Chandrasekhar. “In the interim, the government of India will step in and certify what is the permissible game or not.”

He added that Apple wrote to MeitY that it has taken down “around 68-70 of the apps, but for the balance (apps), they are unable to locate URLs”.

Chandrasekhar said that there are many types of online real money games, and the government has not banned all of them, only those that involve wagering.

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“I suspect, there are say seven different versions of a game and the company is not able to figure out which one they are supposed to take down, so we are saying, we will certify what is permissible, what is not in the interim,” said Chandrasekhar.Apple and Google didn’t respond to queries.

On Tuesday, Apple told ET that it has taken down the main app of Betway from the India storefront pursuant to MeitY’s removal notice. Furthermore, the company said it has asked MeitY for the identification numbers of the other apps so that the right ones are taken down, in accordance with the law. Several other versions of Betway, however, continue to be available on the Apple App Store.

“The clarification will help with providing some guidance and an understanding of the direction of what the SRO could take in permitting online games,” said technology and gaming lawyer Jay Sayta. “But beyond that it will not serve much purpose because the IT rules relating to online gaming can come into force only three months after three SROs are formed or if the government issues a notification sooner than the three months.”

Krida Legal managing partner Vidushpat Singhania said, “If the ministry interprets it (permissible online games) then that will essentially be the interpretation that the SROs and SRBs (self-regulatory bodies) will be bound by. So while this interpretation by the ministry about what is permissible will give more clarity, it could limit the self-regulating power of the SROs/SRBs.”

ET had also reported on May 26 that several of the 138 betting apps banned by the Centre earlier this year are continuing to advertise their operations on digital platforms in defiance of the rules.

Senior executives from gaming companies said the government should also have followed the app ban directive of February 7 and the gaming rules of April with “concrete action” to stop gambling, betting and wagering apps.

“The government has power to take penal action against these operators, which are either on Indian or foreign shores,” said an executive with a gaming company, asking not to be named. “There are agencies which can probe these companies and individuals under FEMA (oreign Exchange Management Act) or other such laws and take appropriate action.”

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