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India’s online gambling problem spurs calls for regulation

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India's online gambling problem spurs calls for regulation

The coronavirus pandemic has left many in India stuck at home during a series of total and partial lockdowns, and such isolation, combined with some of the world’s cheapest internet rates, has made it both tempting and easy to gamble online.

Gambling in India, which largely comes under the purview of state and union territory governments, is outlawed by all but four: Goa, Sikkim, Daman, and Nagaland.

But online betting apps are illegal only in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, which both banned such money-based games in November last year, citing rising bankruptcies and suicides.

V Narayanasamy, until April chief minister of Puducherry, in October last year called for even those to be outlawed, reflecting growing civil society pressure, especially from female voters who traditionally oppose alcohol and gambling.

Maple Capital Advisors in May 2020 valued Indian gaming at $930 million, predicting 41% annual growth until 2024. There were over 400 gaming startups in India, it said, adding that weekly smartphone game user numbers have grown from a pre-COVID rate of 60% to 68% during the country’s lockdowns.

“India is at an inflection point on online gaming with traffic exceeding 15% of global gaming traffic,” said Pankaj Karna, managing director at Maple Capital Partners. Karna said casual gaming saw strong growth when movement restrictions were imposed last year. “Games involving real money saw the biggest growth of 40% through the lockdown, with fantasy sports standing out,” he said.

“It is important to oppose online gambling because now it has started coming in the guise of fantasy sports and is being promoted by sports and film stars,” said Ajay Kumar Sinha, executive director of the Forum for Learning and Action, one of the prominent nonprofit organizations opposing online gambling.

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