AIGF Knowledge Series Forum Brought the Spotlight to Meghalaya’s New Legal Framework on Gaming
The All India Gaming Federation (AIGF), working together with Meghalaya as the Partner state, hosted the first edition of the AIGF Knowledge Series forum in the beginning of April this year, helped by the sponsorship of Mobile Premier League (MPL), Spartan Poker and Gameskraft. The webinar was focused on Meghalaya and brought the spotlight to the recent complete change of the legal framework over gaming in the northeastern state.
During the first months of 2021, Meghalaya bid goodbye to its prohibitive stance on gaming by replacing the old fashioned Meghalaya Prevention of Gambling Act, 1970 with the progressive Meghalaya Regulation of Gaming Act, 2021, and in December added the Regulation of Gaming Rules Act. The new legal framework introduced a state gaming commission and a licensing regime over offline and online games of skill and games of chance.
Meghalaya’s decision to regulate gaming was motivated by a desire to help the local economy by attracting tax revenues, creating jobs and boosting the tourism industry. “As we have seen in many states, this venture has positive impacts not just in terms of GST revenues but also in terms of generating a lot of employment opportunities from the vibrant tourism industry,” said the state’s Taxation Minister James PK Sangma. Yet, as per the current plans, only tourists and business visitors to Meghalaya will be allowed to access the online and offline gaming options in the state.
The new gaming laws secured the first place for Meghalaya in a recent report by the UK India Business Council (UKIBC) on India’s sports and gaming market potential. In an index, specially designed to measure the extent to which all states and Union Territories have legalized gaming and betting, Meghalaya claimed the top position with 92.85 out of 100 possible points, running ahead of Sikkim’s score of 85.71, and Goa, Nagaland and West Bengal, each earning 71.43 points.
When Will All Indians Be Safe from the Black Market?
Meghalaya’s decision to join Goa and sister states Sikkim and Nagaland in legalizing gambling and betting gives Indians one more option for a place where they can go and enjoy regulated and licensed, and therefore – safe, gaming experience. The question remains – when will those who wish to play but cannot afford a trip be able to do it in a way safe from the black market?
Most of the state governments in India have taken a moralistic view on gambling and betting as something evil, fashioned after the Victorian-era Public Gambling Act, 1867, and many of them are skirmishing with the judicial system over the idea of “Let’s make everyone safe by banning all games whatsoever!” Not only did such blanket bans on gaming start falling down like domino pieces last year in the hands of the Respectable High Court benches who found them unconstitutional, but the real problem with this prohibitive approach is that it does not work at all.
The only result of these bans while they stayed in force was to block the activities of legitimate homegrown skill gaming operators and direct even more desi traffic to offshore platforms, many of which were not licensed anywhere and were completely illegal, with not a few even scammy and fraudulent.
As stated by Felicia Wijkander, Chief Editor at SevenJackpots, “You could look at it this way, if evil stands in front of you, closing your eyes will not make it disappear. Instead, by being educated about what this evil consists of, you will be able to make an educated decision to stay away and avoid its pitfalls.”
“Obviously, we don’t think that online gambling is evil, but we are well aware of its risks, and we also know from experience that regulation, not blanket bans, is the way forward when looking to keep people safe around such products,” Felicia continues. “Opting for regulation instead of a blanket ban sends a clear signal that the government cares for its citizens and only wants a safe and regulated product to be available, rather than a black market, illegal, unregulated version.”
A national-level Online Gaming (Regulation) Bill, 2022, inspired by Meghalaya’s new legislation, was tabled at the Lok Sabha in April. It remains to be seen if enough political will to adopt it will be present, but “it could be possible to say that Meghalaya is the state that will help all of India grow by being the stable shoulder to lean on when leaving a Victorian-era gambling law and stepping into 2022,” as Felicia Wijkander concludes.