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Where Do Popular Apps Fall on the Online Gaming-Gambling Regulatory Scale in India? 

MPL crosses over all these boundaries and makes it nigh impossible for it to be separated from online gaming, fantasy sports and online gambling.

The start of this year has seen large amounts of money being raised by Mobile Premier League (MPL). At the start of February this year MPL raised $95 million in funding. The round of investments was led by Composite Capital and Moore Strategic Ventures. The other participants for this round of fundraising also featured Base Partners, RTP Global, SIG, Go-Ventures, Telstra Ventures, Founders circle and Play Ventures.

Post this, the total valuation of MPL has increased to a staggering $945 million.

MPL is owned by Galactus Funware Technology Private Limited. Galactus Funware Technology Private Limited is a Bangalore based start-up in which Virat Kohli owns a stake.

As per the description provided on their website, MPL is an online gaming platform. It claims to be India’s Largest gaming app. The app allows players to compete against other players online. MPL offers a selection of over 65 games that can be used for the competition. The problem with the platform is the fact that it allows players to place a bet with the player they are playing against. The winner of the game gains the money put in by both players after MPL takes a cut from the total amount placed by both parties. To give an example, the game allows players the option to make bets starting at Rs. 3 for the game and if they are to win, they win Rs. 5, MPL keeps the remaining Rs. 1 as their cut.

MPL shares elements with online gaming, online gambling and fantasy sports. MPL claims to be an online gaming platform but includes elements of gambling/betting and offers games that fall under the fantasy sports section. The confusion is further compounded by the fact that all the games on this platform are played out in a fashion similar to a duel. This makes it possible for MPL to lay a claim on being an esports platform as well.

One interesting fact to note about MPL is the fact that it is currently banned in several states within India. The states include Assam, Odisha, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Certain games on the platform are further banned in a few more states and due to this players are expected to look at the special rules section of each game before playing it. Another fact to make a note of is the fact Sikkim happens to be one of only three states in India that allows for casinos to be built.

While online gaming and esports are often looked at as being one and the same, there are in fact subtle differences between the two. For starters while it is possible for an online game to also be an esport and all esports are also online games, not every online game is an esport. This in effect makes esport a subset of online games. The requirement for an online game to also be considered an esport is the fact that the competition is as a direct face-off rather than through a comparison of high scores.

Online gaming vs Online Gambling

Online gaming versus online gambling is a big debate that has come about in the last few months. In the recent Lok Sabha questions session, the Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports stated that the government is aware of several recent incidents where gambling companies were marketing themselves as gaming companies. These gambling companies were taken down by the government. Furthermore, the government is also aware that these companies have given both esports and gaming a bad name as many people are unaware of the difference between the two industries.

To answer the question, one needs to first understand what online gaming is and then look at how gambling is defined. Online gaming is best defined as a video game that is played over the internet or using the internet.  As per oxford dictionary Gambling is defined as playing games of chance for money or betting.

The basic difference between gambling and gaming comes from the fact that gaming is a skill based while gambling is chance based. With the growth of the gaming industry, especially online gaming the gambling companies have decided to take advantage of the grey areas in the regulations to become a part of the gaming industry. The argument made for this is the fact that many of the traditional gambling games also include an element of skill.

In India, the laws forbid Indian businesses from setting up casinos. However, the same restrictions do not apply for foreign online businesses. In India, gambling falls under the jurisdiction of the respective states. Among the Indian states only Goa, Sikkim and Daman have legalized casinos.

What is Fantasy Sports?

According to Cambridge dictionary, fantasy sports is defined as, “games in which you choose a team of real sports players from different teams and win points according to how well the players play each week:”

There have been several games which fall under the category of fantasy sports over the years. Recently the game or firm that comes under the category of fantasy sports and has had success is Dream 11. In September last year the company had raised $225 million in funding led by led by Tiger Global Management, TPG Tech Adjacencies and ChrysCapital. The company has roped in MS Dhoni as a brand ambassador as well.

Dream 11 allows players to choose a sports match and select their 11 top players between the two teams that are playing the game. Based on the performance of the selected players it is possible to win money.

Fantasy sports has some similarities to both online gaming as well as gambling. While fantasy sports do include a certain degree of skill as there is a need to understand and analyse the performance of players when attempting to predict a performance. The fact that the performance is predicted for future games and results of games are not possible to know in advance there is an element of luck involved as well.

To try and place MPL into one of these segments is difficult. This comes from the fact that while the segments have boundaries that separate them from the others (unclear boundaries with many grey areas), MPL crosses over all these boundaries and makes it nigh impossible for it to be separated from online gaming, fantasy sports and online gambling. Given all the uncertainties it may be best to consider MPL a combination of all three. The situation is made worse by the fact that there is no government recognised association or body as of today to clear the doubts.

Anand Krishnawwamy is writer, analyst and consultant on esports and gaming.