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Betting on their employer’s money, pretending to be kidnapped for ransom, robbing or even taking their own life, online gamblers can be driven to the point of desperation. While gambling has been a “passing the time” in India for decades – at home and even outside on open lawns and street corners where people congregate to pay for teenage patti and rummy – like everything else, this The pandemic has also boosted online gaming. Add to that the availability of cheap data, the rise of digital transactions, higher smartphone penetration, and the rapid expansion of game offerings and quality, and you have a powerful combination.

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Delhi-based psychiatrist Pankaj Kumar said there was a 15-20 per cent increase in the number of people seeking treatment for gambling addiction after the lockdown. For most, it starts off as fun and then turns into an addiction. Gamblers make the mistake of thinking they can quit smoking anytime.

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That was the case for 17-year-old Ashwini*, who started playing some games to redeem rewards points. He received some presents, which further piqued his interest. What started out as fun and games quickly became a habit. He went from casual games to gambling, borrowing money from friends and stealing valuables from home, and even managed to gain access to his father’s bank account.

Within a year, he collected small sums totaling over Rs 2 crore. When confronted by his father, he denied it. The father believed his denials and even contacted the police. Only then did the teenager admit to his drug addiction. His parents paid off the loan and believed in the guarantee that he would never play again. But the boy soon went on and started asking his parents for money. When his father refused, he became aggressive and beat him.

“It was only then that the father realized that his son might kill him in a fit of rage,” Dr Kumar said. The teenager was taken to doctors for help earlier this year and is now receiving psychiatric treatment.

Gambling releases dopamine and is therefore addictive. Dr Manoj Sharma, a professor at NIMHANS’ SHUT (Service for Healthy Use of Technology) clinic in Bengaluru, which works to combat technology addiction, said boredom and lack of work have driven people to go online during the pandemic.

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“Players start out with casual games, move on to cash games, and then higher-stakes games. While every win brings a high, every loss leaves players with guilt, regret, but also the hope that they can get through more. Play more games to make up for the loss. When they realize they can’t make up for their loss, they experience feelings of guilt, hopelessness and failure, which drive them to act out of desperation.”

For minors, these risks are even greater. Some sites do not perform know-your-customer (KYC) or other age verification. This makes the sites easily accessible to minors, exposing them to inappropriate content and luring them into illegal activities, according to a study on online gaming by tech think tank ESYA Center. It also states that “gambling is associated with higher financial distress and lower financial inclusion and planning, higher rates of future unemployment and physical disability, and, in the worst cases, substantial increases in mortality.”

A Derry-based cloth merchant has turned to gambling during the lockdown. “Eventually, he started diverting and selling stocks at a loss to support his gambling habit,” said Dr. Kumar. In two years, his business was ruined, he was in debt, and his children had to be dropped out of private schools and sent to public schools. The family eventually sought medical help, although the businessman denied it. “It took three months, a combination of medication, psychotherapy and counseling sessions, to improve his condition,” Dr Kumar added.

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While betting and gambling are illegal in India (except in some states like Sikkim and Nagaland) under the Public Gambling Act of 1867, colonial-era laws made room for exceptions by legalizing games of skill. Subsequent court orders treated rummy, chess, and poker as games of skill rather than chance. However, concerns over gambling addiction have prompted the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu to introduce laws against gambling. However, some of these bans have been successfully challenged and overturned by courts, which have recognized games such as rummy and poker as legal and skill-based. The Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments have challenged this in the SC and the issue is currently pending. In fact, the Tamil Nadu governor on Friday approved an ordinance banning online gambling.

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Domestic gaming companies say laws are not uniform across states. They also argue that while Indian companies are subject to the tax code, a Bengaluru-based online gaming company has been accused of staging the largest indirect showdown in history — totaling Rs 21,000 crore — companies registered outside the country are not. Tax law constraints. frame.

Meanwhile, ads on such sites continue to be rejected. For example, in December 2020, a cricket match between India and Australia was shown live with ads from overseas betting sites. Many use cricket and Bollywood stars as endorsers. Self-regulatory group the Electronic Gaming Federation (EGF) has called for central regulation to protect the interests of players and the industry.

“We know that gaming is an immersive experience and players can take it too far, but a ban is not the answer. We seek soft regulation that will help the legitimate industry grow and protect the rights of players. benefits,” said EGF CEO Sameer Barde. The federation has implemented a code of conduct for its members, which includes age restrictions, limits on how much time and money players can spend, and KYC norms that prevent minors from playing games to make money. In August, the government formed a task force to formulate policy for the industry.

Technology and gaming lawyer Jay Sayta says all games should be regulated. “All gaming – whether skill-based or chance-based – should be regulated and taxed to comply, otherwise the industry will go underground and continue to operate illegally.”

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