This is an Indian law originally created during the British rule and applied to the entire Indian subcontinent that was governed by the British. Considered the first gambling law in India, this 151-year old piece of legislation intended to shutdown illicit gambling houses under the British Raj. The law defined common-gaming houses or establishments as any “house, walled structure, enclosed room, or place that held the playing of cards, dice…[tables] or other gaming instruments [which profit off of] wagers”. In 1976, the Supreme Courts updated the definition of the law to include “space, vehicle, vessel, or place”. Redefining the term has created a grey area, some argue that the internet acts as a vehicle or vessel while most say unless specifically stated online gambling remains legal so long as it operates offshore. Punters can overview the gambling laws in India.
How This Law Affects Gambling in India
The Public Gambling Act is still an active national law which is enforced in numerous states. The law strictly forbids the operation and participation of chance games in a gaming house and provides fines and jail time for offenders. However, that is not to say that no gaming is allowed in India as there are legal games of skill permitted. India separates gambling into two spheres - games of skill and games of chance, the former is legal while the latter is not.
It was not until 1949, when the Indian Constitution was written to include Entry 34 of Seventh Schedule of List II which enabled laws to allow states to choose whether to legalize and regulate sports betting and state-based gambling in their jurisdiction as gaming and betting were and still is considered a ‘state subject’. Because of this allowance, certain states composed regional legislation that legalized land-based casinos. Under the 1949 legislature, states obtained a good amount of flexibility in terms of regulation; to continue, the Northeast state of Sikkim allows for the licensing of online casinos and sportsbooks through the Sikkim Online Gaming Act. While all states possess the capability to utilize gaming in any form they like, most prefer not to authorize gaming in their jurisdiction.
The religious influence of India assists in solidifying a general distaste for gambling as most civilians do not want disruption to their traditional views and Hindu values. This fear logically stems from times of the British colonization of India, in which British workers for the East Indian Trading Company had completely disrupted Hinduism through their use of economic and political power. During the time of the British Raj, Hinduism was deeply affected as the British held no respect for India’s religious culture. Their introduction of Christianity faired well with lower-caste Indians as it showed more leniency to them compared to Hinduism, which caused massive conversions to the Christian faith. Hinduism’s influence on common ethics became disrupted due to the British invasion and after the British left, many in India tried to restore their deep-rooted customs. Some could argue that this is the reason many regions hold onto their religious and traditional values tightly.
What Was the Original Intent for The Public Gambling Act of 1867
The Public Gambling Act of 1867 was created to protect society. This law punished those individuals running and maintaining public gambling establishments and allowed for the enforcement of searches, arrests, penalties, and jail-time by local agencies. By allowing local governments to handle enforcement it curbed the oppression and malpractice found within national police agencies at the time. Although this law was aimed at operators and individuals loaning money for gaming, any person found at a gaming house could also be arrested without proof of having played at the gambling establishment so long as the presence of gaming instruments were found. While the main objective was to repress public gambling in large towns many criticized that the ulterior motive behind this act which was to obtain massive revenue.
How the Public Gambling Act of 1867 Is Outdated
Decades have passed since the original writing of the Public Gaming Act and technology has evolved so much. Gaming has changed and converted to electronic formats from internet gambling to gaming machines and some have argued that offshore online gambling should be included under the scope of the Public Gambling Act. Others argue that the national law is outdated as many states have authorized certain types of gambling under their jurisdiction. The law does not outlaw horse betting, racebooks, rummy, golf, chess, poker, bridge, offshore online gambling and offshore online sportsbooks, either due to the gaming type being more skill dominant or through the allowance of consensus and differing interpretations of the Act. No modern law has replaced the Public Gambling Act of 1867 and many critics argue that certain states which are permitted to offer state-based casino gambling with games of chance equate no real rhyme or reason that gambling should not be accessible to all of India’s residents. Even more so, when anti-gaming advocates state that it is due to religious elements which prohibit gaming, critics roll their eyes at the numerous religious states that do not prohibit lotteries and horse betting or the access to such available gaming from civilians in other states. Most gamblers even question that games such as Rummy are considered legal yet Teen Patti and Texas Hold’em are forbidden. Many lawmakers and activist groups have voiced their opinions and concerns on the matter and hopefully a newly modernized law can effectively take over.
What is a Gambling Instrument?
Gambling Instruments are formally described as any article used or intended to be used as a subject or means of gaming. These include:
- Any document used or intended to be used as a register or record or evidence of gaming
- Proceeds, winnings, and prizes in money of any gaming activities
- Other distribution in respect to any gaming
- Casino chips
- Prepaid cards
Could the internet be? Some suggest that computer terminals used for gambling utilize e-records which would constitute as an instrument of gaming. Even more so, the use of e-wallets may apply to this definition as well.
What is a Game of Mere Skill?
In 1957, the Supreme Court stated that betting or wagering on games of chance constitute as gambling whereas games of skill played for money were not due to the considerable amount of skill required despite minute elements of chance, these became classified as business activities and are protected under the Indian Constitution. Furthermore, in 1996 the Supreme Court ruled that Rummy was classified as a game of mere skill, as well as, golf and chess. While most games involve both elements of chance and skill, games of skill require a substantial amount of knowledge and high degree of skill in order to succeed despite the element of chance. In 2007, additional games of skill were marked they included poker and darts. However, not all states agree with these decisions and provide some restrictions and justifiably so, as gaming is a state subject, for example Rummy is not to be played in Assam, Telangana, and Odisha.
What About Other Forms of Legal Gambling in India?
Most states allow these forms of legal gaming:
- Fantasy Sports
- India legal offshore horse race betting
- India legal offshore online sportsbooks
- India legal online casinos
- India online poker
- Land-based casinos in certain states
- Prize competitions
- Games of skill – Rummy, Darts, Poker, Cricket, Golf, Scrabble, Carom, Basketball, Volleyball, Chess, and Bridge
Which States Allow Gambling in India?
The state of Goa, Sikkim, and Daman allow for the hosting and participation in state-based gambling activities by creating gambling legislation for their districts.
- Goa allows for land-based casino gambling at 5-star hotels and offshore casino vessels, however casino ships must obtain permission from the Goa government before beginning operation.
- Sikkim allows for the hosting of land-based and online casinos, as well as being the only state in India to offer online gaming licenses to offshore operators.
- Daman currently hosts one mega land-based casino with slots, card games, and other gaming machines.
The state of Karnataka is looking to allow floating casinos and is in the middle of drafting legislation to become the fourth state in India to legalize gambling.