The recent government announcement to ban 22 illegal betting and gambling apps and websites appears to be a case of too little, too late.
On Sunday, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology ordered the shutdown of the Mahadev betting app, reddyannaofficial.in, and 20 other apps and websites at the request of the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
However, looking at the broader context, it becomes evident that many Indian youths’ lives have already been irreparably damaged. This issue has had a particularly severe impact on young individuals from different social segments, especially those in the lower and marginalized sections of society.
Let’s explore how these online betting apps have already taken a toll on countless young lives and why this government action may have come too late to prevent further harm.
In recent years, India has witnessed a surge in the popularity of fantasy gaming apps, with millions of users joining platforms thanks to top sporting and Bollywood stars promoting them in flashy ads.
These apps enable users to create virtual teams of real-life athletes and compete based on their performance, with the chance to win cash prizes and rewards.
However, these apps have raised several concerns due to a lack of regulatory oversight and extensive advertising campaigns.
Fantasy gaming apps have been the top advertisers on television during IPL-16, with 18% of the advertising share, up from 15% in the previous IPL, according to a TAM advertising report.
These apps use famous cricket players and popular actors in their advertisements, contributing to their immense popularity.
A recent report by consultancy RedSeer revealed that the income of fantasy gaming platforms increased by 24 percent during the IPL cricket matches from 2022 to 2023, reaching over 28 billion rupees ($341m).
About 61 million users participated in fantasy gaming activities, with nearly 65 percent of them hailing from small towns.
The legal landscape surrounding these apps in India is primarily based on the Public Gambling Act of 1867, which forbids most forms of gambling but permits certain skill-based games.
However, advertisements for these apps can be misleading, as they showcase significant winnings, despite most players only winning small amounts.
The debate regarding whether these games are primarily based on skill or chance continues. Many argue that the app algorithms control the entire game, with companies profiting more than the players.
Defining these games as skill-based requires genuine analytics, statistics, or data studies, rather than assumption-based decisions.
The absence of a standardized set of laws across all states has led to challenges in regulating fantasy gaming apps. Some states have legalized and regulated online gaming, while others have imposed complete prohibitions.
To address these challenges, there’s a growing need for a uniform national law to regulate these apps effectively. Existing laws, such as the Juvenile Justice Act of 2015 and the Information Technology Rules of 2021, are insufficient in addressing the extensive psychological repercussions, especially on minors.
A consistent regulatory framework can provide clarity and consistency in dealing with these apps.
The rise in addiction related to these apps has led to a surge in individuals seeking treatment. The Service for Healthy Use of Technology (SHUT) Clinic, established by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS) in Bengaluru, India, is dedicated to addressing mental health problems associated with technology use. While the clinic initially received three to four patients with gaming addictions per week, this number has now surged to 20 to 22 individuals seeking help per week.
Some students have started considering these apps as an alternative to education, believing that continued use will lead to significant earnings and recovery of their losses.
This kind of thinking can contribute to addiction to these gaming apps. Many addicted individuals are in denial about their obsession, requiring considerable time to admit their addiction.
One approach to mitigate the harm caused by these apps is to shift the focus from monetary rewards to non-monetary rewards.
Instead of offering cash prizes, the winner could be awarded points, encouraging individuals with a genuine interest in gaming to participate without financial risk.
The Indian government’s decision to impose a 28 percent tax on online gaming is an attempt to reduce the popularity of these apps by making them more expensive. However, experts believe that high taxes alone may not deter people from playing. These apps employ various strategies to encourage spending, making them likely to remain popular.
The exponential rise in online betting apps in India has had profound consequences, particularly on the country’s youth. While the recent government action to ban illegal apps is a step in the right direction, it may not be sufficient to address the extensive damage already inflicted on countless lives.
A uniform regulatory framework, along with public health awareness programs and a shift toward non-monetary rewards, could be essential in combating the growing concerns associated with these apps.
The journey to protect the vulnerable, particularly minors, from the addictive nature of online betting apps is an ongoing battle that requires collective efforts from lawmakers, tech companies, and society as a whole.
[The writer, Mohd Ziyauallah Khan, is a freelance content writer based in Nagpur. He is also an activist and social entrepreneur, co-founder of the group TruthScape, a team of digital activists fighting disinformation on social media.”]
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