Fantasy Sports: Ministries studying NITI Aayog discussion paper on regulation

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The Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports Shri. Anurag Thakur on Tuesday informed the Lok Sabha that the draft discussion paper titled “Guiding Principles for the Uniform National-level Regulation of Online Fantasy Sports Platforms in India’ released by the NITI Aayog in December 2020 has been shared with various ministries.

The comments came in response to an unstarred question posed by T.N. Prathapan a Congress member from Kerala. Unstarred questions require a written response from the concerned ministry. This is for the first time, the government informed the Parliament that it is studying the scope of regulation for fantasy sports.

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In July 2021, in response to an RTI, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has indicated that the draft guidelines released by the NITI Aayog in December 2020, as well as the need for a central regulatory framework for online gaming in India, maybe deliberated upon by the Council of Ministers. In reply to RTI queries, Parveen Kumar, Under Secretary in the PMO refused to divulge further details on the feedback given by PMO or inter-departmental discussion relating to draft guidelines on fantasy sports or policy to be framed for online gaming, rummy, gambling and betting etc.

Responding to Prathapan, the minister said betting and gambling falls under the State list and the States are competent to enact laws. “The framework and differentiation regarding fantasy sports pertain to States as Betting and Gambling come under List II of Seventh Schedule (Entry 34) of the Constitution of India,” the written response read.

The Youth Affairs and Sports Ministry has so far not received any directions from courts concerning online fantasy sports, the minister clarified. Responding to a query if the government has issued any advisories, the minister informed the house that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had issued an advisory to all private television channels to comply with ASCI guidelines carrying on certain disclaimers to protect consumers and inform them about the risks.

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This is not the first time the issue of fantasy sports is raised in the Lok Sabha. In December 2021, Mr. Thakur responded to a question posed by fellow BJP legislator Dr Sanjay Jaiswal stating that the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports has not authorized any agency to regulate fantasy sports.

Earlier in December, the Rajya Sabha Chairman and Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu called online games a “big menace” and referred to them as “Kill games” and not “Skill games.” The Vice President directed the Minister for Electronics, Information, and Technology to examine the possibility of regulating them. The remark followed a discussion in the House initiated by former Bihar Deputy CM and Rajya Sabha member Sushil Kumar Modi where 21 members across party lines associated with the issue of the gaming menace.

The discussion on the regulation of online gaming is not limited to Parliament. The southern states Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu, have notified prohibitory laws, citing addiction and financial losses to enact prohibitory laws. The Madras High Court in August 2021 had struck down the Tamil Nadu law as unconstitutional. This case is appealed by the Tamil Nadu government before the Supreme Court. The Kerala High Court had struck down the notification banning online rummy. The Karnataka High Court recently reserved its order in challenge to the online gaming ban law enacted by the State.

India is one of the top five mobile gaming markets in the world, with a 13% share of global game sessions, and is expected to add 40 million online gamers during 2020−22. The online gaming industry is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 40 per cent to $2.8 billion in 2022, up from $1.1 billion in 2019, according to a Deloitte India report.