India may still be trying to determine what constitutes gambling, but Google hopes to create the definition. It’s going to start a pilot program this month that will allow certain gambling apps on Google Play in the country.
Google is going to open its online app store to local developers who create daily fantasy sports (DFS) and rummy apps, the Alphabet-owned company said yesterday. This is a massive switch from the platform’s mostly anti-gambling stance, although real-money gambling continuous to be a sensitive topic.
Developers can now submit their requests to participate in the pilot program, which could start on September 28. It will run for a year, after which, if authorities in India don’t intervene, it could become a permanent addition to Google Play.
Google to Change Indian Gambling
India has had difficulty coming up with a consensus on what gambling is. For example, politicians in some states have argued that poker is only a game of chance, but rummy is a game of skill. The latter is extremely popular across the country, with research showing that over 76% of the population play the game.
The same is true for DFS. India’s Supreme Court ruled last year that the activity is not gambling but, rather, a game of skill. However, some states still prohibit real-money DFS operations.
DFS proponents in Karnataka won a victory in overturning a ban in February. However, Assam, Telangana and others still have bans in place.
As a result, the legalization of poker is still having difficulty finding support. The same holds true for legal DFS. Rummy, however, is readily embraced everywhere.
Google has long held a policy prohibiting real-money gambling apps in Google Play, but the pilot program seems to indicate a change. However, developers who participate in the program will not be able to use Google’s own billing system. Instead, they will need to find third-party solutions.
In addition, they will have to make sure their apps conform to local regulations. For example, they cannot violate local state laws, must have proper licenses and have to ensure no one under 18 years old can access the apps.
Responding to Demand
The initiative, according to Google, is in response to requests from users for the inclusion of DFS and rummy. It could also be because of the potential money the company could make as it changes its policies.
Three Indian companies, Dream11, Mobile Premier League and Games 24×7, offer DFS for Android and are each worth over $1 billion. Users have to side-load the apps but might soon find them in Google Play if accepted to the program.
The Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS) indicates that the fantasy sports market in India was worth $4.35 billion last year. By 2025, it predicts it will be worth over $20 billion.
Although welcomed by some, not everyone is happy with Google’s decision. Accusations of Google’s “discrimination” and “abuse of position” are starting to emerge.
The CEO of the All India Gaming Federation (AIGF), Roland Landers, said it was a step in the right direction, but that it didn’t go far enough. He asserted that there are plenty of other games that Google should include. Landers added that the move is going to force smaller companies out of the business, since they won’t be able to compete with deep-pocketed organizations.
There needs to be a rethink on this decision failing, with which Google may invite litigation. This certainly creates an unnecessary distinction between the different kinds of games offered under the [real-money games] category in the fast-emerging gaming industry,” said attorney Abhishek Malhotra.
FIFS welcomes the move, as does PayTM First Games. Several Indian states banned PayTM last year, so the decision is a small vindication for the company.
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