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Online Gaming Meeting: Caught In Skill Vs Chance Conundrum, MeitY Asks For Solutions From Industry

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has taken the lead role to regulate India's tumultuous online gaming industry.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology met various stakeholders of the online gaming industry on Tuesday.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology met various stakeholders of the online gaming industry on Tuesday. Courtesy: Twitter

The first-ever official meeting anchored by a Central ministry and stakeholders of India's burgeoning online gaming industry may have ended 15 minutes before scheduled time, but participants said Tuesday's landmark conference "went off well." (More Sports News)

Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Minister of State, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), was at the fountainhead of a high-level meeting featuring online gaming platform owners, bureaucrats from various ministries, gaming federations and lawyers.

More than 25 stakeholders attended the meeting, the first time a Central agency has taken the initiative to make operators fall in line. Participants who attended the conference said Chandrasekhar was "patient" and "business-like" from the word go.

The MeitY minister was not keen to hear "whining stories" but was all ears to operators who stuck to the main agenda of "regulations." 

The Esports Federation of India was also part of the meeting. Lokesh Suji of ESFI claimed esports is "pure sport" and it should not be linked with "games of skill/chance". To which, the minister retorted, "... so you don't want to be regulated?"

Suji replied: "We need regulations but as per the sports code/laws of the country just like any other sports." Earlier this week, ESFI had objected to the Rajasthan government clubbing esports with fantasy in its draft Bill on online gaming.

COMPETENT AUTHORITY

The industry is gripped by the eternal debate between games of skill versus games of chance. MeitY acknowledged it on Tuesday and in the absence of a well-defined law, asked operators to give in writing suggestions on a workable model to regulate the industry.

Chandrasekhar said he believed MeitY was competent to regulate anything on the internet including online gaming but not gambling/betting.

The Indian media is currently besieged by advertisements of off-shore betting and gambling sites, much to the chagrin of India's gaming operators.

The online gaming industry in India has been a free-for-all. Funded heavily by investors, operators have often crossed ethical boundaries to attract gamers who play with stakes. Operators have even ignored state governments allergic towards gaming with stakes.

Endorsed by celebrity cricketers and filmstars, online games have also become a social evil with suicides being reported almost every day from various parts of the country. This has generated political backlash especially against rummy which is very popular in South India. 

CAN'T IGNORE STATES, APEX COURT

While MeitY's initiative is a welcome step, online gaming is a state subject and more than operators, the Centre needs to have a dialogue with states who have divergent views on how these games should be played. 

Industry watchers also point out to the cases pending in Supreme Court. There are more than half-a-dozen cases gathering dust in the apex court and two of them are petitions (against online gaming) from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Interestingly, 58-year-old Chandrasekhar is from BJP, the party that rules Karnataka and against online games.

"Since there are six matters pending, Centre should wait for Supreme Court to decide whether games of skill can be played for monetary stakes without attracting offence of gambling," pointed out an industry source. Otherwise, any regulation framed by Centre will again be subject to a cycle of litigation and dispute with states.

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