India’s online gaming industry is expanding rapidly, providing users with easy access to a range of gambling options, including sports betting, fantasy sports, and online card games. However, this growth has led to a worrying trend of users losing significant amounts of money, with the industry now facing an addiction crisis.
According to a recent study, the Indian online gaming industry has a market size of around $2 billion. Many users have developed a strong interest in online gambling.
Cycle Of Online Gaming Addiction
Avi, a tech professional, who was addicted to playing poker on apps, said, “They got me so hooked. No other avenue gave me the same kind of thrill. And I would feel like I was losing because of my own stupidity or because I hadn’t cracked a code I couldn’t believe that my luck was bad. In reality, the game is rigged against you.”
Avi had been using the PokerBaazi app obsessively for around six months before February 2023, during which time he lost a total of Rs 12 lakh. He would constantly think about playing poker, even waking up in the middle of the night to place bets on the app and spending approximately eight hours each day on it instead of focusing on his work during office hours.
Avi says, “Online gambling is a trap because it’s so easy. The phone is in your hand, it’s always there with you, and if you have balance in your bank, it just takes seconds to sign it over.”
Avi’s story of addiction to online gaming is a common one. He started winning big but ended up losing everything, including his mental and physical health. He spent eight hours a day exclusively on the PokerBaazi app, which he couldn’t look away from.
The ease of access to online gaming apps makes it very easy for people to fall into the trap of addiction. Winning streaks keep people hooked and create a false sense of hope that can be difficult to break away from.
The anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll writes about the “machine zone,” a trance-like state that addicts enter when they play to keep playing, despite any negative consequences.
At the Veda Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Bengaluru, patients come to address a range of issues, including addiction to drugs, alcohol, and gambling. Therapists at Veda believe that gambling is a byproduct of behavioral patterns and dependency, and many people don’t seek help until it starts affecting their ability to function.
Veda offers a holistic rehabilitation package that includes therapy, and a therapy dog named Sigmund Freud, trained to be attuned to the emotional and psychological needs of those around him, is also part of the treatment. Gambling addiction can be just as debilitating as addiction to drugs and alcohol, and seeking help is the first step towards recovery.
Even those who can afford to take risks often fail to recognize their gaming addiction as a problem. According to Ritu Girish, an in-house psychologist at Veda, wealthy patients usually only bring up their gambling addiction when it starts affecting their business or relationships, or when they are in debt.
Cash-strapped individuals, on the other hand, are more likely to recognize their addiction to gambling. However, it is only when gamblers start lying, stealing, and manipulating others that they realize the extent of the problem.
Girish, in conversation with The Print, said, “It becomes hard to show people the consequences of gaming without hard evidence – like debt.” Patients at Veda usually admit to their gambling addiction only after intensive therapy addresses their other issues, and some become resistant to help beyond that because of the deep shame associated with it.
Girish believes that it is highly unlikely for people to walk into luxury rehabs like Veda voluntarily to address their gambling addiction, as many would rather live in denial than admit that they have a problem.
After being referred to Parihar, a counseling center for women’s and families’ welfare, by the Bengaluru police, a young techie couple underwent counseling for a maladjustment case, and their therapist discovered that the root cause of their issues was online gaming.
While both were interested in fantasy sports, the husband had become addicted and lost Rs 70 lakh, causing constant fights between the couple, eventually leading to police intervention. During the counseling sessions attended by the couple and their parents, the husband agreed to seek help for his addiction.
Self Regulation By The Gaming Companies
Gaming platforms like Dream11 and Mobile Premier League are more aware of the complex regulatory framework and implement measures to address addiction and financial loss.
The All India Gaming Federation CEO, Roland Landers, “There are several responsible game-play measures and safety tools that are already being implemented by several of our member companies, and that our self-regulatory framework provides for, which are also now obligations that will need to be incorporated by companies under the newly notified IT rules for online gaming.”
The Central Crime Branch of Bengaluru has a unit that focuses on investigating cases of online gaming. Although not all online games are gambling, some games require risking money, which could lead users down a rabbit hole of addiction.
Several apps need special links to download directly from a web browser and are not always available on the App Store or Play Store, therefore do not come under the radar of digital footprints. The police usually get tip-offs from disgruntled users who have been cheated out of their money by shady apps.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology recently amended the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics code) rules on 6 April 2023. However, the regulation of online gaming ultimately falls under the jurisdiction of state governments, as it is on the state list.
This leaves the police in a difficult position, and their investigations are often limited to catching sub-bookies who are often themselves addicted to online gaming. Sub-bookies sell IDs to these apps for around INR 1,000 and make a commission of around 5% on each sale. The police are only able to catch sub-bookies, and bookies at the top of the chain of command are often abroad in countries like Thailand and cities like Dubai.
There is a constitutional issue as to whether states can impose a complete ban on online games played for stakes, even if they involve skill, and whether the regulation of online gaming is under the competence of states or the central government. These issues are still pending before the Supreme Court.
Industry experts have welcomed the Centre’s intervention in online gaming regulation, stating that it will help promote consumer interests, curb illegal offshore gaming sites and enable responsible and transparent industry growth.
While online gaming apps like Dream11 may be responsible, they are designed to keep players hooked, and players tend to return to play again. Addiction to online gaming and gambling is a serious problem that needs to be addressed by both individuals and society as a whole. It is important to recognize the signs of addiction and seek help before it’s too late.
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