India has one of the most complicated histories revolving around gaming and gambling. Even archaeologists have found dice made from sandstone and terracotta that date back to 3300 BC, and there is strong evidence that Indus Valley citizens participated in cockfighting and betting.
Diwali, an Indian religious festival, has religious connotations tied to gambling. However, even for religious reasons, most gambling can only be done privately in the modern era. Although it’s common to think that the Indian government has banned all gambling – this isn’t the case. Even in an online betting format, sports betting on horse races is one of the many ways Indians can legally participate in gambling.
India Under British Rule
Gambling in India used to be governed by the Public Gambling Act of 1857, which derived from both the Gaming Act of 1845 and the Betting Act of 1853 that governed British Gambling laws. The Public Gambling Act of 1857 prohibited public gambling anywhere in the country unless it was done privately. There was an exception for games of skill like bowling and tennis.
Horse racing was licensed years later in the Bombay Presidency under the Bombay Race-Courses Licencing Law of 1912. Before this, the Bengal Presidency, Act VIII made it possible for horse racing ticketers to hand out prizes and subscriptions related to winning a horse race or for gambling a large amount of money to the horse racing house.
The British government ran everything to do with the lottery, but those funds were often used to develop towns. Gambling away from horse races and lotteries was mostly entirely illegal, but historians have stated that the gambling culture in India led to the massive growth the country saw in the 20th century.
After India gained independence from British rule and India’s Consitution went into effect in January 1950, there was initial confusion on gambling laws. Gambling and betting were primarily the state’s property, so only the state legislature had the power to change these laws. The state also had the ability to make laws about the taxation of betting and gambling.
Overall, India kept most of the principles of the Public Gambling Act of 1857 but made a few amendments. The most noticeable modification was the state’s power over gambling as a whole.
India’s Gaming Market
India’s gaming market is worth over $70 billion. These figures include regulated and unregulated gambling. India separates gaming and gambling in 6 categories: lotteries, horse racing, sports betting, prize competitions, games of chance, and games of skill. Both lotteries and horse racing are highly regulated and legal, whereas the other categories may be legal in some cases.
Prize competitions are classified as any competition in which prizes are offered to a solution to a correctly completed puzzle. Prize competitions are legal in the following states but aren’t limited to Andhra, Madras, Madhya Bharat, and the East Punjab States Union. Often prize competitions will overlap in other categories like horse racing or lotteries.
The official status of sports betting is still up for debate because the state government hasn’t decided if this practice constitutes more skill than chance. Technically, horse racing does fall under sports betting, but sports betting is separate from horse racing in India. Games like cricket, baseball, hockey, or bowling all fall under sports betting.
A grey area exists in India’s legal status, but it is currently legal to bet on sports in an online setting within the state.
Games of Chance vs. Games of Skill
Most games involve some varying percentage of skill and chance, but a game will only fall in one or the other if one predominates over the other. For example, although Poker does have a degree of chance, it is still considered a game of skill because the player can make specific skill-based decisions around what other players are doing and the flop.
Most games of chance and skill are banned in India but are legal from offshore gambling websites. An Indian citizen can legally play games like poker or slots as long as the online gambling website has its home office in another country.