Online skill-based casual games and sports (OSCGS) should be recognised by the Government of India as a category that is predominantly skill-based and is not necessarily addictive, said IndiaTech, an industry body that represents Indian startups, in a letter to the Union Minister for Communications and Electronics and Information Technology of India.
“Mere involvement of money does not make any game into an addictive or gambling genre. There is an urgent need to create this distinction by the Government of India to come up with National Level guidelines that can be followed by the states. This regulatory clarity will also ensure prevention of misuse and harm,” the letter said.
The body also pressed on the “urgent need” for the gaming companies in India and the government to work towards creating guidelines for responsible gaming.
The industry body defines OSCGS as games/sports that are played online by multiple players simultaneously, and are predominantly skill-based requiring physical and mental skills such as hand-eye coordination, strategic thinking, logic, tactical mindset, attention and familiarity with the game and its rules.
Several states including Gujarat, Odisha, Telangana and Karnataka have banned many of the online skill-based games arguing that they are promoting online gambling, even though the Supreme Court had recognised online rummy as a game of skill in a 2015 ruling. Some of these state-level bans have been successfully challenged by gaming companies and industry bodies this year. For instance, in August 2021, Madras High Court quashed a Tamil Nadu Gaming and Police Laws (Amendment) Act of 2021 that had banned online rummy and poker. Similarly, in September, Kerala High Court lifted the ban imposed by the state government on online rummy.
“Banning has never been a solution, it is important for the government and industry to engage more along with stakeholders from civil society and mental health experts and work towards developing and adhering to a code for responsible online gaming,” the letter said.
The body also suggested that the code should lay down policies for age-based classifications on the lines of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). It should help create a safe gaming environment that respects the privacy of gamers and is free from cyberbullying and cyber fraud. It should also encourage the use of artificial intelligence (AI) based tools to monitor and reduce the potential risk of addiction and overspending on games.