Cybersecurity and legal experts say that’s in violation of the ban on such activity, which has previously got India’s favourite sport of cricket in trouble several times. Indian video gamers are betting on Mini Militia, Fortnite, Teenpatti, Dream11, MPL, Clash of Clans, Clash Royale, Counter-Strike and Asphalt-8 but it’s Tencent’s PUBG that’s top of the list.
Along with fake news, misinformation and child pornography, WhatsApp and other social media channels have emerged as a platform for illegal activities such as online betting, including the videogame variety, according to the experts. While WhatsApp groups have been used for betting on live sporting events such as the Indian Premier League (IPL), the trend of betting on video games is said to be catching on.
What’s interesting is that players of the widely popular PUBG, backed by China’s Tencent, are mostly college goers who earn from Rs 100 to 5,000 a day, depending on their expertise. Online betting would earlier involve the exchange of coins or incentives to proceed in the game but now it’s being done through real cash with the use of Google Pay and Paytm, said the experts.
“Access to such invite-based groups is quite easy. Once you are verified, a particular login and password would be shared, which helps you enter the chat rooms and discuss,” said Gautam Kumawat, a cybersecurity professional who tracks the space.
PUBG or PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, an online multi-player game, has topped the charts both on Google and iOS. Up to 100 players are pitted against each other after being para-dropped onto the territory. Each player has a virtual character or avatar that can play alone or team up with others to make kills, the intent being to stay alive. Bettors team up within small groups to defeat other players and then carry on the battle among themselves.
“Over the last six months I have won around Rs 2,000 a day playing PUBG,” said a 24-year-old college student from Gandhinagar on condition of anonymity. “If the player is new, he or she first plays without any money involved. As the player understands the game better, each kill can earn them at least Rs 10, going up to Rs 200 per kill. If a player wins the game, they can earn up to Rs 5,000.” The pot could also be shared by the players.
Google Pay’s policies stipulate that any sort of online or offline gambling, where money or other items of value are paid in exchange to win real money or prizes based on the outcome of a game, is not allowed and accounts will be suspended as punishment. Google said the authorities have not flagged any such cases to them so far.
Tencent, WhatsApp and Paytm didn’t respond to queries.
Although there is no specific law for online gambling, under the Public Gaming Act of 1892, such activity is illegal since betting on games is not allowed, said Salman Waris, managing partner at law firm TechLegis Advocates & Solicitors.
“This is essentially a game where you cannot predict and there is no special skill required. Such games are strictly prohibited,” he said . Certain games that require skill like rummy are allowed but not video games like PUBG. Experts said Indian authorities are watching closely and such instances of betting could possibly lead to a nationwide ban.
Videogame players will disagree with the view that no skill is involved. Globally, the videogame industry is bigger than the movie business and livestreaming of such matches has emerged as a key area for Amazon-backed Twitch and Google’s recently launched Stadia among others. Top videogame players are well paid and e-sports will reportedly be part of the 2024 Olympics.