Indian Government's Stern Crackdown on Online Gaming Operators

Anil Panesar - Senior WriterAnil Panesar - 15 June 2023 in News
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In recent years, the online gambling industry in India has witnessed a surge in popularity. While a number of reputable online casinos offer top qualitygames and online casino bonuses, and provide excellent gaming experiences to players across the country, a darker side of the industry has emerged. Recently, a series of investigations have thrown light on alleged illicit practices of money laundering and tax evasion, perpetrated by several gaming operators, casting a shadow on the industry as a whole.

Government Agency Sounds the Alarm

Taking a firm stance, the Directorate General of GST Intelligence (DGGI), India's regulatory authority tasked with controlling tax evasion, has sprung into action. It has put around 38 online gaming platforms on notice for alleged money laundering activities and serious violations of the country’s tax laws. These platforms are believed to be amassing substantial revenue from Indian consumers, only to channel it out of the country, thereby sidestepping their tax obligations in India.

India has yet to fully legalize online gambling. Recent developments suggest that the country could potentially lean in the opposite direction. These platforms, through their alleged actions, manage to circumvent tax regulations within India. Furthermore, they have been accused of providing a channel for certain individuals, particularly high net-worth individuals, to launder money and evade taxes.

Economic Consequences: A Loss of Billions

The DGGI has painted a grim picture of the economic repercussions of unlicensed gaming activities. According to its estimates, the unregulated gaming industry could be responsible for a capital flight of as much as INR120 billion (US$1.46 billion). This startling figure spans the period from April 2019 to November 2022, although the exact quantification of the financial drain remains a challenging task.

India's Income Tax Department corroborates these claims in a report highlighting an alarming rise in online betting on seemingly free gaming platforms. This surge has in turn led to a notable increase in tax evasion and money laundering. These platforms have allegedly facilitated payments through foreign-drawn bank cards and cryptocurrencies, making it increasingly challenging for authorities to determine the source of the money.

Offshore gaming companies, who wish to operate in India, are now obligated to comply with tax calculations and GST (goods and service tax) registration. Failure to adhere to these standards could result in severe repercussions. Tax officials could report non-compliant entities to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), resulting in the prohibition of such gambling sites. This scrutiny extends to domestic gaming platforms as well.

Continued violations could even precipitate criminal charges against high-ranking officials at the implicated companies, according to the DGGI. The agency, however, refrained from disclosing the identities of the 38 entities under its scrutiny.

Transnational Money Laundering Networks Revealed

In a separate, but related development, India’s Enforcement Directorate unearthed a money laundering ring involving remote gaming activities and iGaming companies registered in Malta. The investigation pointed to these companies being involved in a complex web of financial transactions. These companies have allegedly collected funds through their gaming websites and then routed these funds through a labyrinth of bank accounts. The money is finally remitted out of India, with the purpose of remittances being falsely declared as payments against importation of services or goods.

The Enforcement Directorate did not specify the destination of these funds. However, the possibility of Malta being a recipient of some of these funds cannot be ruled out given the fact that some of the unnamed companies under investigation are registered on the islands.

The operation was intricate, involving the opening of hundreds of companies in the names of employees. These companies were then allegedly used to layer the financial transactions and facilitate the outward remittances of approximately Rs. 4000 Crore [approximately €450,000], under the guise of payments for goods and services to be imported.

Regulating the Online Gaming Landscape

India's gambling regulations have been a subject of ongoing debate, with varying interpretations and perspectives across different regions. The central government recently introduced new laws in an attempt to address some of the confusion, providing a clearer definition of online real money gambling. This has been described as any gaming activity that exchanges cash or other valuables for the chance of winning a prize.

Despite these regulatory efforts, the future of online gaming in India is shrouded in uncertainty. The country is also implementing a ban on all online gambling activity not expressly approved. Social media platforms and online gaming operators must adhere to these rules, failing which, they risk facing severe penalties. Even more stringent, the state of Tamil Nadu has outrightly banned all online gambling activities, demonstrating the tough stance that some regions are prepared to take against the industry.

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