Pushing online gambling/gaming-with-wagers underground via bans, like Tamil Nadu’s, doesn’t really tackle the harm they can do
DSM-5 of the American Psychiatric Association, the go-to catalogue of mental health disorders, recognises Internet Gaming Disorder.
Tamil Nadu has joined Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in banning online gaming involving prize money, and online gambling/betting/wagering. It is almost as if the state hasn’t heard of the many, many ways through which internet bans can be circumvented—proxies, network anonynmisation, VPNs, just to name a few of the popular options. To be sure, while the undesirable effects of gambling are obvious, gaming addiction is very real, as research shows. And when money gets involved, it can be downright ruinous. Among children, peer pressure over buy-ins within games—especially for gaming tournaments—casts a cloud on mental health.
DSM-5 of the American Psychiatric Association, the go-to catalogue of mental health disorders, recognises Internet Gaming Disorder. Such effects in view, the Tamil Nadu ordinance talks of suicides linked to online gaming, betting, etc. The ban is also in keeping with Tamil Nadu’s strict line on betting/wagering/lucky draws in the offline world as well—in fact, among 13 Indian states that have some form of a ban on offline betting/wagering/lucky draws, etc, Tamil Nadu has the most comprehensive one.
That said, the difficulty in implementing the current ban should give the state and others contemplating similar bans reason for pause. Is it really desirable to push something that has potential for causing damage underground? Would it not be better to design regulation and choke off the damaging aspects—for instance, a cap on the value of individual in-game purchases and an overall cap on buy-ins, regulating amounts that can be wagered by a single player/from a single device, etc? The second approach will certainly be beneficial for a government in terms of the revenue potential; with nearly 400 e-gaming start-ups in India, it will be a lifeline to business in this segment too. But, this certainly can’t come at the cost of social well-being; which is why if there is to be such regulation, it has to be designed carefully.