Earlier this month, Google launched a year-long pilot that will see certain types of real-money games, such as rummy and fantasy sports, available on its Play Store in India.
It’s a landmark decision because without a law regulating real money gambling and fantasy sports games in India, Google had banned these apps: previously, players of fantasy games like Mobile Premier League and Dream Sports had to download them from websites, not through the official Google store.
There’s still no law, but Google may have seen the writing on the wall. Indian gambling laws are not uniform and most states prohibit online gambling. The industry’s growth – which is estimated to reach $5 billion by 2025 – led the Indian government to set up an inter-ministerial task force in May to bring regulatory certainty to the sector.
Online gaming lobbies such as the Indian Fantasy Sports Federation and IndiaTech.org have argued that games such as fantasy cricket, rummy and poker should be classified as “games of skill” as they require strategy to be developed before bets are placed. They differ from betting on “games of chance” such as ludo or games that rely on rolling the dice. Over the years gaming platforms like Dream 11 have received positive rulings from the Supreme Court of India that rummy and fantasy sports are “games of skill”.
These court rulings and the intention to regulate the real money online gambling space have encouraged Google to update its policies. The program, which goes into effect September 28, allows fantasy sports and rummy apps to be listed on the Play Store if they comply with a set of rules designed by Google. Eligibility criteria include age restrictions to prevent underage users, company registration in India, display of responsible gaming information and more.
The move is not without controversy. The addictive nature of the industry has been blamed for several suicides.
WinZO, which offers real-money games in categories such as carrom, ludo and 8-ball pool, does not benefit from the new Google policy. The company’s founder, Saumya Singh Rathore, has claimed Google is “unfair and restrictive” and has sued the tech giant for discriminating against its new policy.
“In this process, Google appears to have opened doors to certain formats of online games that may have been deemed legitimate by certain courts to be selectively listed on its Play Store,” Rameesh Kailasam, chief executive of internet technology group IndiaTech, told me .org .
Ultimately, WinZO feels left out at a critical time when other gambling and real-money fantasy gaming apps are poised to make a splash on the Google Play Store. But it’s still just a year-old pilot. And we’ll have to wait until the government finally enacts regulations to decide whether snakes and ladders are a game of skill.