Earlier this month, Google launched a one-year pilot that will allow certain types of real-money games such as rummy and fantasy sports to be available on its Play store in India.
It’s a landmark decision because, without a law to regulate gambling and real-money fantasy sports games in India, Google had banned those apps; before this, players of fantasy games like Mobile Premier League and Dream Sports had to sideload them from websites, not through Google’s official store.
There still isn’t a law, but Google might have seen the writing on the wall. Indian gambling laws are not uniform, and most states prohibit online gambling. The growth of the industry — estimated to reach $5 billion by 2025 — meant that in May, the Indian government set up an inter-ministerial task force to provide regulatory certainty for the sector.
Online gaming lobbies such as Indian Fantasy Sports Federation and IndiaTech.org have argued that games such as fantasy cricket, rummy, and poker should be categorized as “games of skill” because they require strategizing before placing bets. They are different from wagering bets on “games of chance” that rely on the roll of dice, such as ludo. Over the years, gaming platforms such as Dream 11 have gotten favorable rulings from India’s Supreme Court that rummy and fantasy sports are “games of skill.”
Those court rulings, and an intention to regulate the online real-money gaming space, have encouraged Google to update its policy. The program, which will come into effect on September 28, allows fantasy sports and rummy apps to be listed on the Play store if they comply with a set of rules sketched out by Google. The eligibility criteria include age restrictions to prevent underage users, company registration in India, display information about responsible gambling, and more.
The move isn’t without controversy. The addictive nature of the industry has been blamed for multiple suicides.
WinZO, which offers real-money games in categories such as carrom, ludo and 8-ball pool, will not benefit from the new Google policy. The company’s founder, Saumya Singh Rathore, claims that Google is being “unfair and restrictive,” and sued the tech giant for being discriminatory with its new policy.
“In this process, Google seems to have opened doors to certain formats of online games that may have been held legitimate by certain courts to be selectively listed on its Play store,” Rameesh Kailasam, chief executive of internet tech group IndiaTech.org, told me.
Ultimately, WinZO is feeling left out at a critical time, when other gambling and real-money fantasy gaming apps are ready to make a splash on the Google Play store. But it’s still just a one-year pilot. And we’ll have to wait until the government finally creates regulation to decide whether snakes and ladders is a game of skill.