Gambling in India is a state subject as the law allows states to formulate laws that will govern gambling. Even so, the Public Gambling Act 1867 is the national law that prohibits running any gambling establishment in India. However, the legality of any gambling activity is dependent on whether it’s a game of chance or a game of skill.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the legality of various gambling activities. Get more info about it here.
Game of chance vs game of skill
There are two categories of games in India: Games of chance and games of skill. A game of chance is one that is played randomly and mostly based on luck. Often, no prior knowledge will be required. Such games include playing dice, picking random numbers, or raffles.
On the other hand, the latter requires prior knowledge and experience to play. In addition, the use of analytical or critical thinking skills will be needed. According to Indian laws, games of chance are illegal while games of skill are legalized. There is still a lot of debate on what games qualify to be regarded as games of skill.
For instance, poker is a game of skill in some states such as Nagaland and Meghalaya. Contention still remains in West Bengal, despite the local high court asserting that poker and its variants such as Texas Hold’em and Omaha Hold’em poker are games of skill.
Land-based casinos operate in the states of Goa, Sikkim, and Daman. Gambling in Goa, Daman, and Diu is regulated under the Goa, Daman and Diu Public Gambling Act, I976. This act stipulates that casinos can only be set up in five-star hotels or offshore vessels with prior permission from the state governments. As such Goa has 10 casinos of which 6 are land-based and four operate floating on the Mandovi River.
Casinos in Sikkim are regulated under the Sikkim Casinos Act, 2002. The state has two casinos namely Casino Sikkim and Casino Mahjong. Currently, The Deltin Casino is the only operating land-based establishment in Daman.
Games offered in these casinos include table games, slots, and live dealer games. These are games of chance but are exempted under the Gambling Acts of the respective states.
Casino gambling in Meghalaya is legal but only available for tourists. Nonetheless, the state is yet to establish a brick-and-mortar casino.
Most gambling laws prohibit gambling in land-based premises. The majority of gambling laws have no mention of online gambling as they are pre-internet statutes. As such, there is no clear federal law on where online gambling stands.
In recent years, a few states have made laws that explicitly criminalize online gambling or legalize the same. States such as Assam, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana have specifically banned online gaming.
On the same note Sikkim, Nagaland and Meghalaya have laid out a licensing framework for online gaming. Sikkim permit offering online games and sports through intranet terminals and this is excluded for its state residents while Nagaland allows online skill games only. Meghalaya is yet to lay out its operating terms even with the recent licensing of online skill and chance games.
Horse racing and lotteries
Betting on horse racing has long been maintained as a game of skill and hence exempted from the ban. In addition, online betting on horse racing still remains in a legal grey area as most gambling laws have no mention of online gambling. Despite the legality, horse racing gambling has its prohibitions based on the state. Clubs hosting horse races may also impose their conditions too.
As for lotteries, the Lottery laws specifically dictate that lotteries must be run by state governments and prohibits any private lotteries. However, state governments can appoint private companies or persons to run the daily operations of these lotteries. At the moment, 13 states have operating lotteries with Madhya Pradesh and Bihar completely banning lotteries.
Wagering in sports remains illegal under the gambling laws. However, states such Sikkim and Meghalaya permit sports betting under certain conditions. In other states, there is a pending court case that seeks to define sports betting as a game of skill therefore exempting it from the gambling laws. The case is pending with very minimal progress in the last two years.
Fantasy sports betting serves as a great alternative as it is unregulated in most states. Nonetheless, due to the ban on all games of skill in Assam, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, fantasy sports betting is illegal.