How international insights can guide India’s online gambling regulations

India has the second largest population in the world: 140 crore. India also has the second highest number. of online gamers worldwide: 42.5 crore. The potential of this huge market has not been lost on the Indian government, which recognizes the need for regulation and support as the sector navigates the waters of innovation with a strong focus on player safety and responsible gaming behavior.

Nevertheless, the government’s ability to create an ideal regulatory framework for the industry appears to be faltering. Despite efforts in 2023 to implement fundamental measures, there remains uncertainty about the implementation of these guidelines, especially given the stagnation in the approach of self-regulatory bodies (SRBs). The intention to establish a sound regulatory system is obvious. The aim is to prevent illegal companies or gambling operators from masquerading as real money games of skill and to protect players from possible financial ruin – all while taking into account the sector’s growth opportunities.

India has an opportunity to create a progressive framework by incorporating best practices from around the world and adapting them to India’s specific needs. It wouldn’t be unprecedented; India has previously designed policies based on international models, such as the recently introduced Personal Data Protection Act, which was largely inspired by the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which set a benchmark for data protection and privacy laws worldwide.

The British model The British model for regulating online gambling is considered one of the most advanced regulatory models in the world and is overseen by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC). India could follow the clear UK guidelines for operators and provide robust player protection. For example, the UKGC’s License Conditions and Codes of Practice require all operators to participate in the National Online Self-Exclusion Program (GAMSTOP) to offer their own self-exclusion options. It allows users to self-exclude from not just one, but all registered online gambling services across the country with a single request. This approach allows players to manage their gaming habits more effectively while encouraging responsible gaming behavior.

Malta’s Licensing and Compliance Standards The Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) is known for its comprehensive licensing process, which includes strict compliance checks and a focus on player safety and fairness. MGA’s process includes comprehensive background checks on gaming companies, the fairness of games and the security of online transactions. Companies must also demonstrate their commitment to responsible gaming practices.

While India intended to offer a framework on similar terms with the self-regulatory authorities, it may consider setting up a central regulatory authority with similar compliance processes to ensure a safe and trustworthy online gambling ecosystem in the country. Only operators that meet strict safety, fairness and responsible gaming standards should be approved. Singapore’s Integrated Model Singapore’s integrated approach to regulating online gambling, including real money gaming, combines strict regulations with robust enforcement mechanisms.

The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) plays a crucial role in this regulatory landscape, working with the Ministry of Home Affairs to regulate content and ensure the social well-being of players. One of the key aspects of their framework is social protection measures, including self-exclusion programs, age restrictions and daily spending limits. India could emulate Singapore’s centralized regulator model and become more involved in the online gaming industry to regulate it together if a self-regulatory option is not sufficient. This centralized authority can ensure that operators comply with legal requirements to protect consumers and promote responsible gambling. Sweden’s Advertising Regulations Sweden enforces advertising guidelines as part of its licensing conditions for online gaming operators.

These guidelines ensure that advertising does not misrepresent chances of winning and that terms and conditions are transparent. India has published several such guidelines through MIB and ASCI for maintaining advertising standards in online gaming. However, these are not enforceable and therefore not legally binding. The government should enforce these policies through regulation, mandating these advertising standards and penalizing operators who do not comply.

India is poised to emerge as a global gaming powerhouse, provided it creates an enabling environment that prioritizes market access, consumer protection and responsible gaming. The critical element currently missing is an enabling regulatory framework designed to nurture the ecosystem free from the constraints of ongoing regulatory challenges.

By drawing lessons from global precedents, India is in a unique position to synthesize the most effective aspects of international frameworks – be it the UK’s national self-exclusion system, Singapore’s integrated and centralized regulatory approach to regulating content and ensuring the social well-being of its players, or enforcing strict advertising guidelines like those in Sweden – and adapting these elements to India’s unique socio-cultural landscape. Once this is established, India could witness unprecedented growth in online gaming and contribute significantly to the government’s vision of becoming a Viksit Bharat by 2047.

Rajesh Mehta is an international affairs expert focusing on areas such as market entry, innovation and public policy.

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