In recent years, India has witnessed a surge in the popularity of fantasy sports games, like fantasy cricket, with millions of Indians actively participating in platforms like Dream11 and Paytm First Games. Through the popularity, fantasy games have received a lot of attention in the media and from lawmakers who are faced with a dilemma based on the similarities to online gambling.
Tamil Nadu passed a ban on fantasy gaming through an ordinance; however, the courts have since intervened, and the final resolution of the matter is still pending. Similarly, reports have suggested that Karnataka is contemplating introducing a law regarding fantasy gaming influenced by Tamil Nadu. The situation remains uncertain, with developments yet to unfold.
While various forms of online gambling remain illegal in India, such as online casinos and sportsbooks, fantasy sports platforms have managed to operate legally. Unlike traditional gambling, the outcome of games like fantasy cricket relies primarily on skill. Participants strategically select a team of players on a limited budget, considering aspects which may impact how a player performs.
This element of skill creates a clear distinction from traditional gambling, which rely more on luck. However, the same can be argued about sports betting, where the skilled punter has a much higher win ratio and, in some cases, stay profitable.
Trying to squeeze the industry through bans is only a solution to some concerns lawmakers might have. Bans and unfavourable regulations weigh down the online gambling industry, but online casinos continue to thrive and remain accessible. The problem is that those online casinos are foreign but still available to thrill-seeking Indians. If lawmakers continue the path of banning fantasy gaming, players will move on to play with foreign operators that offer the same services, much like we have seen in the online gambling industry.
For online gambling and fantasy gaming, favourable regulations allowing local operators to thrive would benefit the economy and the players. Regulated fantasy sports platforms can maintain transparency according to legal requirements, offering real-time tracking of games and enabling participants to view and download details of all teams in a contest. This transparency ensures fairness and prevents fraudulent activities. Moreover, as mandated by the Advertising Standards Council of India, statutory warnings and guidelines emphasise responsible gaming and acknowledging the financial risks of fantasy gaming.
There is hope that a balanced approach can be taken, allowing fantasy gaming to thrive while addressing potential concerns.
Some states, such as Assam, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Nagaland, and Sikkim, have banned fantasy gaming due to concerns over financial issues and their potential impact on an individual’s mental health. Additionally, Tamil Nadu introduced a ban through an ordinance, which faced legal challenges. Reports suggest that Karnataka is also considering similar legislation.
There are better ways forward than this.
Educating users about responsible gaming practices is crucial to ensure the long-term sustainability of fantasy gaming. Platforms can add features that promote responsible participation, such as setting limits on spending and providing resources for users who may develop addictive behaviours. These are standard tools and measures taken in the online gambling industry, which work very well. Collaborative efforts between industry players, government bodies, and non-profit organisations can raise awareness about the distinction between skill-based gaming and gambling.
Recognising the element of skill involved in these games, central and state governments must approach the regulation of fantasy gaming with a balanced perspective. By working closely with industry stakeholders, including gaming bodies, advertisers, and broadcasters, authorities can create a regulatory framework that addresses concerns while allowing the industry to grow.