Opinion

Unregulated Online Gambling Puts Consumers at Risk

Punjab Tribune Bureau | March 12, 2022 06:27 PM

While media outlets tell stories of financial ruin and family trouble, most businesses and consumer groups realize they need rules and legal protection. Online games for money are easy to regulate and take under government control, experts remind, making the best out of India’s digital know-how and tech-savvy user market.

Personal Losses a Reminder of Collective Online Safety Needs

Every once in a while a news article brings up the topic of tragic events in some way related to gambling addiction. The narrative may seem an urban tale to some, yet it is persistent as it is unproven in most cases. They are certainly real to those who suffer addiction themselves but with online gaming, nowadays, it is harder to verify by authorities and offer help via support services.

That is, unless online gaming for money is strictly defined and regulated by governments, be those Centre or State. With mobile games spreading “like wildfire” – even before the pandemic but much more these days – offshore platforms and apps flood the market with captivating jackpots and prize pools but zero consumer protection, uncontrolled operations and standards.

It might be surprising to some that a reputable online casino India would jump at the chance to be regulated and pay taxes. However, industry experts stress the fact that gaming operators and desi tech studios are eager to stand out from the offshore competition, prove their worth and get legal protection in turn.

Several states have already attempted to ban games for money completely ignoring constitutional distinctions between skill and chance that make desi favorites like poker, rummy and fantasy sports absolutely legitimate. High Courts of Madras, Kerala and elsewhere have so far upheld the businesses’ and player’s rights to indulge in these classic games like online blackjack real money. In the meantime, there is no formal regulation in sight, neither on local nor on national level.

Unlike government lotteries – completely luck-based yet legal – mobile and online games for real money make up for a complex market that sees India top global rankings in terms of growth and market potential. Lawmakers seem uninterested in digging deeper and proposing a meaningful solution. While helplines and prevention centers still focus mostly on brick-and-mortar casinos that are accessible to few and unattractive to India’s tech-savvy youth.

Digital Controls Make Regulation Realistic

On the other hand, market analysts point out that Central-level gambling licenses have gone a long way towards solving similar problems in mature markets (in Europe, US or Australia). Imposing blanket bans on paid games is not a working alternative to a completely unregulated market since it still leaves consumers exposed to illegal black market operators.

India’s gaming industry is always willing to propose solutions beyond self-regulation. Industry research (see above) proves that the only real way of combating online gambling is through a regulatory framework and rigid standards.

Considering its vast market, India has already made notable progress in setting up digital tools that might help authorities control gambling on both sides – industry and consumers. Digital IDs (Aadhaar) are suitable to use in age and spending limits, self-exclusion tools and vulnerability blacklists. Bharat legislators need to think about a Gambling Commission and a Consumer Data protection regulator to complement a government structure dedicated to similar online entertainment markets.

Regulating the real-money gaming market enables authorities to transform risks into a well-controlled digital environment; missed opportunities into public benefits (in the form of tax revenues and a healthy gaming industry). More importantly, consumer protection and job creation are direct consequences of the market’s transparency and lead to more investments in the long run. Modern day monitoring tools and awareness campaigns aid such efforts and make gaming regulation a necessary step. Some political will and dedication might be needed but the positive impact will be there for everyone to notice.

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