Delhi-based psychiatrist Dr Pankaj Kumar said there had been a 15-20% increase in the number of people seeking treatment for gambling addiction after the lockdown. For most people, it starts out as entertainment that turns into addiction. Players are lulled into the false belief that they can leave at any time.
That’s what happened to 17-year-old Ashwini*, who started playing some games to redeem reward points. He received gifts that stimulated his interest. What started out as fun and games quickly became a habit. He went from casual gambling to gambling for money, borrowing from friends and stealing valuables from home, even managing to gain access to his father’s bank account.
He withdrew small amounts over a period of a year, totaling over Rs 2 lakh. When his father confronted him, he denied it. Believing his denial, the father even approached the police. It was only then that the teenager confessed to his addiction. The parents repaid the loans and believed his assurances that he would not play again. But the boy took over soon after and started demanding money from his parents. When his father refused, he became aggressive and beat him.
“It was only then that the father realized that his son could even kill him in that fit of rage,” says Dr Kumar. The teenager was taken to the doctor for help earlier this year and is now undergoing psychiatric treatment.
The game releases dopamine, which makes it addictive. Dr Manoj Sharma, a professor at NIMHANS Bengaluru’s SHUT (Service for Healthy Use of Technology) clinic which tackles tech detox, says people were driven by boredom and lack of work to connect during the pandemic.
Discover the stories that interest you
“Players first start with casual games, then progress to cash games, then to higher stakes. While every win brings a high, every loss leaves the player with feelings of guilt, regret, and hope that they can regain the losses by playing more. When they realize that they cannot make up for the losses, there is a feeling of guilt, despair and failure which can lead them to take desperate measures. ”
These risks are even greater in the case of minors. Some websites do not perform Know Your Customer (KYC) verification or other age verifications. This allows minors to easily access these websites, exposing them to inappropriate content and enticing them to engage in illegal activities, according to a study on online games by the technology policy think tank ESYA Center . He also notes that “gambling is associated with higher financial distress and lower financial inclusion and planning, higher rates of future unemployment and physical disability, and, in its most acute form, significantly increased mortality. ”
A Delhi-based cloth merchant has gotten into the game during the lockdown. “Eventually he started embezzling and selling stocks at a loss just to fuel his gambling habit,” says Dr. Kumar. Within two years, his business was destroyed, he was in debt, and his children had to be taken out of private school and sent to public school. The family eventually sought medical help even though the shopkeeper was in denial. “It took three months, and with a combination of medication, psychotherapy and counseling sessions, his condition improved,” adds Dr Kumar.
But what about legality?
Although betting and gambling is illegal in all of India (except in some states like Sikkim and Nagaland) under the Public Gambling Act 1867, the colonial era law leaves room for with one exception by legalizing games of skill. Later court orders recognized rummy, chess, and poker as games of skill rather than games of chance. But gambling addiction concerns have prompted the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu to pass laws banning gambling for money. However, some of these bans have been successfully challenged and overturned, with courts recognizing that games like rummy and poker are legal and skill-based. The governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have challenged this in SC where the case is currently pending. In fact, the Governor of Tamil Nadu on Friday approved an order banning online gambling.
National gaming companies argue that there is no uniformity in the laws which differ from state to state. They also argue that while Indian companies are subject to tax laws, with a Bengaluru-based online gambling company being accused of the largest indirect demo notice in history – that of Rs 21,000 crore – companies registered in India. outside the country are exempt from the legislative framework.
Meanwhile, advertisements for these websites continue with disclaimers. For example, in December 2020, advertisements from offshore betting sites were shown during the live broadcast of cricket matches between India and Australia. Many use cricket and Bollywood stars for endorsement. The self-regulatory organization E-Gaming Federation (EGF) has demanded central regulation that will protect the interests of gamers and the industry.
“We understand that gaming is an immersive experience and players can go overboard, but bans are not the answer. We seek flexible regulation that will help the legitimate industry grow and also protect the interests of gamers,” said Sameer Barde, CEO of EGF. The federation has already implemented a code of conduct for its members which includes age limitation, limitation of time and money a player spends and KYC standards so that minors do not gamble. gambling. In August, the government set up a working group to define policy for the sector.
Technology and gaming lawyer Jay Sayta says all games should be regulated. “All games – whether skill-based or chance-based – should be regulated and taxed so that there is compliance, otherwise the industry will go underground and continue illegally.”
* Name changed