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3 Mar 2014

Andhra Police requests blocking of Playwin website in surprise directive; decision likely to be contested

In a sudden move, the Andhra Pradesh Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has written to the Central government run Computer Emergency Response Team India (CERT-IN) seeking a ban access to online lottery website MyPlaywin in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Playwin lotteries are run by multi-billion dollar Essel Group, which has diverse interests in media, infrastructure, hospitality, entertainment, lotteries and gaming.

As per media reports, the Andhra Pradesh CID has decided to take this step based on a complaint to the Andhra Pradesh State Human Rights Commission and a directive by the human rights body to the state Chief Secretary. However, it is unclear if such a directive would be legally tenable as the laws on banning internet lotteries remain ambiguous. Playwin is a licensed lottery operator running lotteries in more than half a dozen states under the Lotteries (Regulation) Act, 1998 and rules framed thereunder in 2011. No provision under these laws exists for blocking licensed lotteries. Provisions under the Information Technology Act, 2000; Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules 2011 and a 2003 Ministerial Central Government Order on blocking of websites allow an order of blocking of websites to be passed by the CERT. These provisions can be interpreted to block access to gambling websites, but it is unlikely that blocking of a licensed lottery website would be legally tenable under the said provisions .

Further, Playwin accepts participants only from states where lotteries are legal as per the terms and conditions on their website and hence the directive to block the website does not make much sense. Additionally it may not be practically and logistically possible to bar access of websites to only particular states and blocking of any website is a long drawn procedure. It may be remembered that the Bombay High Court ordered the CERT-IN to block betting website Betfair in 2010 within three months, but the order was never enforced (possibly due to practical difficulties) and Betfair can be accessed in India even today.

Officials of Essel Group run Playwin lotteries declined to comment stating that they are currently examining the legality and propriety of the police order. However it is clear would be a major controversy and debate on the legality of online gaming if the CERT goes ahead with the request of blocking of Playwin’s website.

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