Editor's Note: This is fifth and final part of Madhyamam's investigative series on online gambling and online games like rummy
Card games aren't illegal. But when money is involved, it becomes one. It's gambling. As per the Public Gambling Act of 1867, running a gambling setting is illegal, and the offence could end up in penalty of 200 rupees or three months in prison. Also, visiting a gambling centre would penalise you for 100 rupees or one-month imprisonment.
Even before our Constitution came into being, the Gambling Act of 1867 had banned gambling in India. Therefore, even today, the courts makes reference to this Act for cases relating to games. After the Constitution came into existence, legislation regarding betting and gambling rested on the state governments. Most of the states made laws and regulations following the provisions of the 1867 Act.
Violation of law in its shade
Online gambling games grew in the dark about the rules in many states in India. In the 2019 K Ramachandran vs Circle Inspector of Kerala case, the High Court of Kerala observed that playing rummy for stakes is illegal, referring to the 1960 Kerala Gaming Act. The court said that the nature of a case should be considered. The 1960 Act has banned games involving money and profit. But online gambling does not come under this act.
Though online gaming requires a fixed amount in the users' account, there is no charge for using a particular amount. But these apps take money from the users' account without his knowledge, says Adv. T S Ajay of Kozhikode Bar. According to IPC 406 and 420 this amounts tocheating. Only affiliated institutions canhandle one's money. But these gaming companies do not clarify that.
It is laid down in their terms and conditions that those under 18 years of age should not play the game and the legal liabilities rest on the gamers only. But according to the Indian Contract Act, contracts made with under aged are invalid. Also, promising bonus for inviting new people is not legal.
Licence there, game here
Legal experts point out that most of the online gambling firms bag licence according to European or international rules and regulations. Therefore, taking action against them is not that easy. Some of the gaming firms are run in those states where it is legal. But wherever they got the licence, these games affect and harm human minds and persuade people to commit crimes. Authorities should wake up and act against them.
Andhra Pradesh government banned online games like poker and rummy during September last year. Increase in the number of victims and their deaths forced Tamil Nadu to do the same. If caught, online gamblers will be penalised with 5,000 rupees or six months to two years of imprisonment. Those who run online gambling appswill be liable for 10,000 rupees or suffer up to two years imprisonment as a penalty.
States like Assam, Odisha, Telangana also banned such online games. Why the government did not take the initiative to eliminate this social malaise despite loss of precious lives and belongings is remains a big question mark. The government should bring laws without loopholes and penalise criminals, or this malady may end up as a colossal tragedy.
Preying through Loans
The money lost in the game should be regained and for that, more money is needed to play further. While one would be thinking of finding more funds, an SMS will arrive from the app. It contains the gaming app's offer to apply for a loan without submitting any credentials. The user must apply for the loan through the app itself. Police have found out people who fell prey to these loans. Using artificial intelligence and big data, they snoop around people's social media accounts, emails and SMSs and evaluate their relationships, job and financial status. According to the evaluation, customised SMSs and links were sent to them.
Once the loan link is clicked, a list of conditions pops up. The permission for access to the 'contacts' list and 'storage location' should be given. These fraud gangs know that those desperate for money will give permissions without a second thought. When we register in the app, our private files and other data will fall into their hands. After the lockdown, people became victims of online money lending frauds.
There were many who took three more loans to pay back one loan, paid back three lakhs for a loan of one lakh and committed suicide out of shame. A native of Kerala's Malappuram was entrapped in a loan of 7,000 rupees. When his monthly payment was defaulted once, he faced blackmail and insults. He mentioned the same in the petition he filed in Cyber Cell. The blackmail calls were coming from Andhra, Bihar, Maharastra etc. A native of Kozhikode paid back the loan, but she is persistently being threatened for more payment.
Thrissur police registered five cases in a month regarding threatening people who failed monthly installments through WhatsApp groups.
How to save our neck
Only those banks and financial institutions approved by the Reserve Bank Of India cando banking using online portals or mobile applications. One should check that they have mobile-only Non-Banking Financial Company (NBFC) registration before approaching a mobile app for loans.
Never approach finance companies without an RBI listing for loans. One should have an accurate understanding of the rate of interest, payback period and terms and conditions. We also have to weed out unwanted apps from our smartphones.
Never give any applications permission to access contacts, SMS, email, storage, social media accounts etc. and inform the police in case of doubt.