India’s tryst with gambling is not a modern-day development. Anyone who has read or knows about two of the country’s biggest epics – the Ramayana and the Mahabharata – will recall that gambling episodes were the real game-changers in the storyline of these epics.
In the Ramayana, which many believe dates back to 7300 BC, there are references to devices such as the gambling board (believed to be a primaeval version of today’s chess) and gambling with dice. The Mahabharata, which dates to 3200 BC, one of the storyline’s focal points is a dice game (pachisi) between the Pandavas and the Kauravas.
Apart from these, there are innumerable stories from the pages of our country’s history pointing to gambling in India. According to our historical data, many kings lost their kingdom, wealth, and even queens to wagering.
The Earliest Versions of Gambling
It is apparent that gambling existed in India long before history could account for it. The Buddhist text from as early as 300 BC hints that people of those times used nuts of the Vibhitaka tree as dice for the purpose of gambling. The Astragali, derived from the knucklebone of animals, later replaced the nuts, and the conventional form of gambling with dice evolved into the game Passa. Indians progressed to gambling on animals. Enthusiasts enjoyed betting on ram fights and cockfights. It progressed to the more refined horse racing among the urban.
How Gambling Evolved Over the Years
While it is generally believed and accepted that gambling with cards and the introduction of card games were the brainchild of Europeans, there is enough historical evidence to the contrary. Many early versions of playing cards and gambling tools discovered in Europe had typical and indisputable Indian symbols. One can safely deduce that Indians played a pivotal role in the global boom of gambling.
Gambling houses made their appearance in the country around the 15th century. When the Europeans came to India in the 18th century, they brought along a few other gambling versions, but importantly, they introduced Indians to cricket. Betting on cricket was a favourite pastime of the elite of those times.
The Public Gaming Act And Its Impact
When the British started their rule in India, they outlawed gambling houses, lotteries, horse racing, and all other forms of betting. However, it was impossible to stop something that many Indians were passionate about. Gambling evolved in many ways and started making its presence felt in small towns and residences in various forms.
The Public Gambling Act was passed by the British in 1867 and is still prevalent. Even the fine and punishment terms remain the same as it was when first introduced. While the Act has undergone many amendments, there is a lot of ambiguity and vagueness around these rules, even today. Cricket and poker are defined as games that involve the use of skills and hence not covered by the Act. In 1968, the Indian judiciary added rummy to the list of skilled games.
The Indian Constitution has placed gambling as a State subject (Seventh Schedule Entry 34 List 2), while the central act applies to all those states that do not have any specific anti-gambling laws.
The Stand of The Indian Government
Like any responsible government, the Indian government believes that irresponsible online gambling in India can ruin people and their families as the lure of gambling can force them to bet beyond their means.
All states and Union territories are authorised to make decisions about gambling. Many states do not support it wholly but allow some forms of gambling, such as online gaming, races, and lottery.
The Advent of Online Gaming
Even with gambling restrictions, people from many states in India are exploring online gaming options and can choose to play their favourite games on new casinos online. With more than impressive internet penetration, fairly decent speeds, and easy availability of smartphones, more and more people are joining the online gaming bandwagon in the country. Most of them admit that they play for fun and entertainment and money is an ancillary consideration.
The Grey Areas
There is some amount of ambiguity regarding laws surrounding online gaming activities. The laws are not well-rounded and firmly defined, leading to poor interpretation. Some court cases were filed challenging the legality of poker and arguing that it was a game of skill and hence should not be outlawed.
However, the position still remains unclear. This is also the case with sports betting. It has neither been cleared as fully legal nor is it declared as completely illegal. Some shady bookmakers have been arrested, but there is no recorded instance of online sports betting players having ever been charged.
India – A Fast-Growing Marketplace for Online Gaming
Compared to other Asian and global countries, India is still a nascent player in the online gaming market. However, the industry is showing a tremendous surge and growing at a faster pace as compared to other established global players. Clear signs are emerging from available data that India will soon be a force to reckon with within the online gambling space.
While the best casinos in India and online gaming operators are trying to create a more conducive betting space for Generation Next players, they have to operate within serious legal limitations. Casinos operating offshore but catering to the local audience have a critical role in popularising online gaming and making it more accessible to players. Indians can satiate their gaming passion by visiting these offshore virtual sites and playing their favourite games.
Experts warn against using the services of shady-looking gaming sites. With some good research, you can find reputed and reliable online gaming sites that offer mobile casino games as well as regular online games. There are also independent review platforms available to guide you. Most of the games offered by these sites are designed to cater to the tastes of local players.
The future of online gaming in India is bright and brilliant. There is a tremendous potential for faster and better growth. However, the state and central authorities must take a lenient and broader vision of online gaming for the industry to survive and thrive.