“I haven’t slept properly in the past few days. I have lost around 30 lakh rupees in the online game. I played day and night. I got addicted to it, it was like drugs. I wasn’t able to come out of it” were the last words of 38-year-old Vijayakumar from Puducherry that he captured in an audio note just before taking his own life. As stated, the reason for his act was the addiction and stress caused by the same, along with the crumbling financial losses incurred, his wife in an interview stated that he had started playing just to while away time during the initial stages of the lockdown, but did not realize when the addiction became so serious. Now, there is a very fine line of difference between video games and the online sport that has been banned by the Tamil Nadu government following the incident. Games such as Counter-Strike, Valorant, PUBG Mobile are free for everyone but involve certain in-game payments that can be made in exchange for items, which is completely optional. Whereas, the kind of games that Vijayakumar was into, involved the player to pay to play each round/game involving a gamble, which is what the rest of the article is about.
In the case of Gurdeep Singh Sachar v. Union of India and Ors. (2019), the Bombay High made a very clear meta of deciding whether a game was based on skill or purely luck, in that case, applications and games such as Dream 11 which is an online fantasy sport was deemed as completely legal under Article 19(1)(g), owing to the skill of a player in choosing their respective teams based on a wide array of statistics and performance graphs. The Court very clearly stated that the yardstick for the same would only be the amount of skill required to play.
Earlier this year in September, the Andhra government followed the footsteps of Telangana in banning all money-based online games in the state with an ordinance that amended the Andhra Pradesh Gaming Act, 1974. One of the major changes made in this act is regarding the role of the skill involved in playing the game, and therefore skill-based games and luck-based games will be treated alike, which is a completely different stand as taken by the Bombay High Court in its judgment above.
This shows the difference in the thought process of the courts and governments across the state, which also begs the need to have laws that spread across the nation, therefore, bringing uniformity in this particular case of online gaming.
‘War’ on Online Sports
The word ‘vice’ is very commonly associated with gaming, in general, amongst the Indian society and a lot of families are not able to fathom the thought of their child opting to become a professional gamer as their career choice. In the true meaning of the term, vice is any practice or behavior that is considered immoral or taboo, or even sinful. This usage could be owing to the general notion of Indians having a rather fixed mindset on what could come under the classification of a job. While the statistics show that the approximate worth of the gaming industry has risen from 600 million dollars in 2017 to anywhere near 2.4 billion dollars in 2020, the preconceived notion is yet to change. Now, this includes all forms of games that are purely skill-based and luck-based as well, which further indicates that the entire industry is being penalized for the mishaps of a few. Moreover, in the event of ‘protection of national security’ PUBG Mobile was banned by the Central Government in September because of the companies ties with Tencent, a giant gaming company, which received a lot of backlash from users and others alike, even resulting in people committing suicide due to the ban. Post which the creators of the game severed ties with the Chinese company, and partnered with Microsoft Azure, despite which they are stuck waiting for permission to release the game yet again. Although PUBG Mobile is purely skill-based, the purpose of throwing light on this issue was to highlight the resistance to accept the reality of such games, despite them providing jobs and careers for millions of Indians, whether it be in terms of becoming an e-sports athlete, content creation, game development, so on and so forth.
Pros and Cons of Legalizing Online Gaming
There are certainly several advantages to legalizing online gaming platforms, first, as mentioned earlier there are a lot of scopes for job creation in the country, and because there are a lot of unemployed in India, especially post the arrival of the pandemic. Secondly, local mafia and gambling have always had common paths throughout history starting with the ‘Gambino family’ in the USA who was one of the most notorious crime families in history, who made millions through gambling operations. Likewise, the legalization of such gambling and betting platforms while reducing the influence of the mafia would also allow for the regulation by the government themselves, leading to a more progressive, yet regulated form of gambling, which automatically reduces the risk of being cheated by fraudulent companies. And lastly, the boost received by the economy would be in millions, if not billions, because the government could impose a higher tax as a negative externality which would disincentivize the customer to reduce or avoid gambling.
On the other hand, there are always certain cons to every move, such as in this case there have been noted cases of addiction and the added pressure which causes a psychological strain. Now this strain will affect the lives of the person going through such pressure, in India itself, there have been cases of abuse and violence arising from the stress of having lost money or having been cheated of their money. Moreover, there have been instances of people stealing and excessively borrowing money from others to fuel their addiction, which has led to them facing major repercussions, irrespective of which some of them still tend to stay addicted. This is about a petition filed in the Madras High Court in early September seeking for the arrest of the cricketers and famous personalities that endorsed Dream 11 in terms of advertisements, following the suicide of a teenager who failed to pay up his losses incurred through the app. Lastly, in terms of the Indian Constitution, there are provisions called the Directive Principles of State Policy which revolve around a set of Socialist, Gandhian and Liberal-Intellectual ideals that imbibe the ‘true essence of the Indian society’, while they are non-justiciable following such principles should ideally be the duty of every citizen.
Analysis and Conclusion
“Give a man a fish and he will eat for that day, teach a man to fish and he will be able to eat for the rest of his life.” The ban on online gaming by some states is a good initiative taken by the state to help its citizens and save them from incurring losses in various forms, but the scope for people to deal with such situations and therefore come out of it or balance their involvement will certainly lead to having more wholesome and capable citizens. If citizens are constantly subject to state and government control in every sphere of their lives, then the chances of a person losing their thinking capacity and therefore becoming a puppet. In terms of the gravity of the offense committed, when it comes to grievous matters state control and deeming such activities as illegal is completely justified, but a ban on a gaming platform that deals with wagering, betting and gambling is an extreme step taken by these governments. An alternative to which could have been the regulation of the same under strict supervision as seen in states such as Sikkim, Goa, and Kerala, which should be considered by the other states.
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