November 4, 2020
Gambling in India has a hoary and ambivalent past. It has been elaborated in the Dyuta Sukta a hymn in the tenth book of the Rig Veda where the Gambler laments on the dice that has ruined his life and begs it to spare him. Gambling has been described as a vice which destroys familial life, harmony in society, rise in crimes, and without the support of the family loss of life. In the story of Nala the hero is possessed by the demon Kali who drives him to gamble away his kingdom and be exiled to the forest. King Rituparna of Ayodhya who engages his service teaches him the numerical skills required for a gambler. It is quite possible that the ancients knew about the application of numerical skill to games of chance as well to the practical aspects of predicting the yield in a field or fruits in a tree.
The scene then shifts to the Mahabharatha which has its central theme as the Game of Dice in the Sabha Parva, the loss of the game and subsequent events which lead to the destruction of a kingdom. At the end of the Mahabharatha epic King Parikshit confronts Kali and confines him to the gamblers’ den, drinking house, brothel, slaughterhouses, and gold. Chanakya, knowing the difficulty in suppressing gambling turns it into a source of income for the kingdom and lays down stringent rules to tax the gaming houses and the gamblers in the Arthashashtra.
Coming to the recent history, gambling in India is governed by The Public Gaming Act of 1867, The Madras Police Act of 1888 and the Tamilnadu Gaming Act of 1930 in the state. Gambling is listed in the list II of the Seventh Schedule and given the States to enact laws to regulate gambling. Goa, Sikkim, Nagaland have permitted gambling online and offline. The three cases that are relied upon in most of the judgements are the State of Andhra Pradesh vs Satyanarayana (1968), M.J.Sivani vs State of Karnataka (1995) and Dr. K.R. Lakshmanan vs State of Tamil Nadu and Anr (1996) which permits gaming activities like rummy with stakes, which has been described as a game with “preponderance of skill over chance”. When these cases were decided online gambling was not available. Today a situation exists where online gambling has neither been specifically prohibited or permitted. A grey area exists which needs to be addressed expeditiously.
Internet Addiction Disorder is an addiction which has been recognized as an addiction similar to compulsive, gambling, drinking and substance abuse. Internet addiction is stimulated by the multiple layer rewards offered by gaming, gambling, shopping, pornography etc. This is also known as the Variable Ratio Reinforcement Schedule theory. One addiction leads to reinforcement of another addiction to create a situation where the individual is reduced to a zombie like state where nothing except his dose of internet and gambling alone matter. With access to devices and the net made affordable, and the lockdown forcing people to stay at home, online gambling with all its ill effects has become a major headache to society. The recent spate of reports of suicide due to gambling debts, using of credit/debit cards by children point out the beginning of a possible societal problem caused by unregulated online gambling. Apart from this online gambling sites are also used to collect the personal data about the people. They also a pose a risk to the economy of the country since large sums of money are transferred overseas through payment gateways, and the medium of crypto currencies which could also be used to fund narcotice trade, terror funding and money laundering activities.
A Public Interest Litigation has been filed in Chennai High Court asking directions to the government to address this issue.
The author of the column is Ravichandran. S.N , Co-anchor Data Security Council of India
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own