PMO calls for online RMG files from NITI Aayog in surprise move

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The growing ambivalence around real money gaming, that led the Government of India to throw the ball in the state governments’ court, has now come into sharper focus with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) calling for files languishing in NITI Aayog in order possibly address the demand to regulate India’s online gaming sector, reports Outlook.

There is no doubt that the online gaming sector has boomed exponentially during the pandemic. Despite multiple petitions and calls for bans, online real money gaming seems to be riding the popularity wave. However, concerns around the dangers of what a vast majority perceives as ‘gambling’, keep being voiced frequently.

NITI Aayog’s Guiding Principles

With PMO’s sudden interest in the long-pending matter, India’s online gaming industry has good reason to be on tenterhooks . While what prompted this expeditious move remains unclear, the tinnitus caused by petitioners, intellectuals and restrictions being imposed by South Indian state governments on online games involving stakes is ineluctably having a compounding effect.

Even as investors pump in hundreds of millions of dollars in this seemingly burgeoning industry, concerns are continually echoed in favor of checks and balances around online RMG due to the legitimate risk of loss of livelihoods among other issues.

In December 2020, the NITI Aayog had released a draft paper called the ‘Guiding Principles for the Uniform National-Level Regulation of Online Fantasy Sports Platforms in India’. This marked the first attempt from a central government body to bring some order in this unbridled industry. The latest move from the PMO can be seen as a potential follow up on the front.

RMG boom

Largely attributed to lockdowns, jobs losses and reduced earnings, a large chunk of our population turned to playing online real money game, partly also due to the promises of lucrative returns. Advertisers and operators aggressively promoted the products without cautioning people about the financial risks. Real money online games like rummy, fantasy sports and poker went full monty, flooding the landscape with bombastic claims. So much so that the Information and Broadcasting Ministry finally had to take stock of the matter and enforce much-needed guidelines.

Although not as unabashedly, big money advertisements still prevail across websites, advertising platforms, media, television and billboards. However the RMG commercials are not without disclaimers now and potential players are duly made aware of the impending risks. Despite expert recommendations like ensuring background checks, permissions and informed consensus along with proper limitations to avoid untoward situations, NITI Aayog’s response has largely been tepid.

While stakeholders believe personal freedom and choice to play these games must be honored, the financial unrest brought on by the pandemic necessitates more regulations in order to protect players who have an unhealthy predisposition to gambling from dramatic and destructive losses.

Possible ramifications

While Mobile Premier League (MPL) remains one of the core sponsors of Indian cricket team’s jersey, Dream11 was the title sponsor of Indian Premier League in 2020, a testament to the growing popularity of this fantasy sports and RMG in general. Top operators and investors have looked at PMO’s recent move with surprise considering that India is ravaged by the ongoing second wave of COVID and containing the spread of the outbreak should be the top priority.

Given the government’s moral inclinations, stance and cultural moorings, it is possible that some tough measures to cull the adverse effects of online games that involve stakes are in the offing.