India has a huge population of well over one billion people. It is, therefore, probably no surprise that there are plenty of people who enjoy gambling in this region. Sports betting is very popular, particularly on cricket, as is horse racing betting. Casino gambling and playing poker are popular pastimes as well.
Despite the popularity of gambling in India, it’s technically prohibited in most of its forms. There are some exceptions, but there is very little in the way of legalized and regulated gambling. Much of the legislation which relates to gambling is very outdated and decidedly unclear. This is especially true when it comes to online gambling.
As a result, it’s very difficult to determine exactly what’s legal and what’s not in India. The legalities of gambling have been the subject of extensive debate in the region for many years, but there hasn’t been much progress in terms of clarifying things. The fact that there is gambling related legislation at both federal level and state level makes things even more confusing.
On this page, we explore the subject as best we can, by looking at the legislation which is in place and how it can be interpreted.
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The main piece of legislation relating to gambling in India is the Public Gaming Act of 1867. This act initially applied only to the ten states which were under British control at the time, but was subsequently amended to incorporate all other states. There have been some other amendments too, but the laws remain in place despite the fact that they are over 100 years old.
You can read the Public Gaming Act in full here.
The Public Gaming Act made it illegal to operate a venue where gambling took place. It also made it illegal to visit such a venue. While this is clear enough, there’s no precise definition of gambling within the act. This makes it hard to determine, for example, whether betting on a game of cricket is illegal in the same way as betting on the roll of a dice might be. It could be argued that cricket betting is skill based, and therefore not covered by the act, whereas betting on the roll of a dice is pure chance.
This argument is strengthened by the following clause within the act.
“12. Act not to apply to certain games. Nothing in the foregoing provisions of this Act contained shall be held to apply to any game of mere skill wherever played”
It should be noted, however, that there’s a definition of gambling in the Constitution of India. A case could easily be made that this definition applies to any reference to gambling in the Public Gaming Act. The definition is as follows.
“…gambling includes any activity or undertaking whose determination is controlled or influenced by chance or accident or any activity or undertaking which is entered into or undertaken with consciousness of the risk of winning or losing (eg, prize competitions, a wagering contract) …”
While the language used here isn’t exactly clear and concise, it does suggest that anything where you can risk money to win money could be considered gambling. This would therefore make sports betting, casino games, and poker all illegal. However, there’s other legislation in India which contradicts this to some extent.
There are two state governments in India which have passed state level legislation to allow legalized casino gambling. Goa was the first to do so, initially to allow slot machines in hotels and subsequently to allow fully fledged casinos. The state is now home to several land-based casinos, and a number of cruises ship-based casinos. It has become a very popular tourist destination partially because of this.
Sikkim was the next state to legalize casino gambling, and it currently hosts two land-based casinos. It’s also a frontrunner in legalizing online gambling.
The Public Gaming Act of 1867 makes no reference to online gambling. This is no surprise, given that the internet was a long way from being invented when it was introduced. It could be argued that operating a gambling website in India is deemed illegal under the terms of this act, given its wording, but this is far from clear.
There’s also another act which could be considered to relate to online betting and gaming: The Information Technology Act of 2000. This makes provisions for various offences relating to online activity, although again there’s no specific mention of online gambling being illegal. It does give the Indian government the power to block foreign websites however.
The government has used this power to instruct Internet Service Providers to prevent Indian residents from accessing certain foreign betting and gaming sites, but we don’t know for sure how effective this has been or which sites have been blocked.
At state level, there are two states which have introduced legislation relating specifically to online gambling. In Maharashtra, it’s completely prohibited, while in Sikkim the government now has the authority to issue licenses to operators wishing to provide online gambling services within the state. This is a notable step forward for regulated gambling in India.
All in all, the legal situation relating to using online gambling sites in India is decidedly unclear. Many of the major gambling sites welcome Indian customers, but because these sites are operated overseas, they aren’t necessarily governed by Indian law. As such this does not, by itself, mean that using a gambling site from within India is legal.
With that being said, with the exception of in Maharashtra, there are no laws which clearly state it is illegal for an Indian resident to gamble online. We are certainly not aware of any Indian being prosecuted or charged for the offence of using a gambling site.
While we aren’t able to definitively state that you can legally gamble online in India, we don’t believe you should worry too much. You just need to make sure you use a site that’s reputable and trustworthy, and that accepts Indian customers.
We do have one word of warning though. The Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) 1999 was introduced to India in 1999 to govern the exchange of foreign currencies. Technically, depositing to a gambling site in a currency other than rupees could be considered an exchange of foreign currencies, and thus be covered by the act.
It’s not unreasonable to expect that, in the coming years, the gambling legislation in India will be updated and amended in order to provide a clearer idea of what’s illegal and what’s not. We will keep you updated here with anything that happens in this regard, and any other legislative changes.