Tracing the history and legal status of lottery and gambling in India

India has a long and rich tradition of lottery and gambling dating back to ancient times. However, the legal status of these activities has changed over the years, depending on social, political, and economic factors. In this article, we will explore the history and current situation of lottery and gambling in India and the laws and regulations that govern them.

Lottery and gambling have a long history in India, as they are mentioned in some of the oldest and most revered texts of Indian literature, such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. These epics, which are considered to be the cultural and religious heritage of India, depict the life and adventures of various heroes, gods, and demons, and also reflect the social and moral values of ancient India.

In the Ramayana, which is believed to date back to the 7th century BCE or earlier, lottery and gambling are portrayed as common and acceptable forms of entertainment and recreation. The epic describes how people used to play games of chance with dice, cards, and gambling boards, which were called aksa, devana, and chaturanga, respectively. These games were often played during religious festivals, such as Dussehra and Diwali, or during social gatherings, such as weddings and banquets.

The epic also mentions how some kings and nobles, such as Rama, Bharata, and Dasharatha, were fond of gambling, and how they used to stake their wealth, jewels, and even their clothes and ornaments in the games. However, the epic does not condemn or criticize gambling, but rather depicts it as a normal and harmless activity.

In contrast, the Mahabharata, which dates back to the 4th century BCE or later, portrays lottery and gambling as the root of all evil and suffering. This epic recounts the saga of the Kurukshetra War, a fierce battle between two feuding clans, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, vying for control of the throne of Hastinapura. Interwoven with themes of duty (dharma), action (karma), and liberation (moksha), the Mahabharata delves into various philosophical and religious ideologies.

It vividly illustrates how gambling catalyzed the war’s outbreak, precipitating the Pandavas’ downfall. The narrative unfolds as the Kauravas, under the guidance of their nefarious uncle Shakuni, lure the Pandavas into a deceitful game of dice, stripping them of their kingdom, riches, and dignity. Further, it chronicles how Yudhishthira, the eldest Pandava and a compulsive gambler, recklessly wagers away his brothers, himself, and even his wife, Draupadi. The epic poignantly depicts Draupadi’s humiliation at the hands of the Kauravas and the subsequent 13-year exile endured by the Pandavas. Strongly condemning gambling, the Mahabharata serves as a cautionary tale, warning of its perilous repercussions.

Lottery and gambling were also influenced by foreign cultures and religions. For example, the game of chess, which originated in India, was modified by the Persians and Arabs, and later reintroduced to India by the Mughals. The game of cards, which originated in China, was brought to India by the Muslims and Europeans. The game of Matka, which is a form of lottery, was based on the opening and closing rates of cotton transmitted from the New York Cotton Exchange to the Bombay Cotton Exchange.

During British colonial rule, lottery and gambling were regulated by the Public Gambling Act of 1867, which prohibited running or visiting a public gambling house, except for state lotteries or lotteries authorized by the state government. The penalty for violating this law was a fine or imprisonment, or both. However, this law did not stop people from gambling in private or underground venues, or participating in illegal lotteries.

After India gained independence in 1947, lottery and gambling became a state subject, and each state was entitled to formulate its own laws for these activities. Some states, such as Kerala, banned private lotteries and established their own state lotteries in the 1960s. Other states, such as Goa, legalized casinos and other forms of gambling in the 1970s and 1980s. The central government also enacted the Lotteries (Regulation) Act of 1998, which laid down the rules and conditions for organizing, conducting, and promoting lotteries in India.

Today, lottery and gambling are still a matter of state discretion, and there is no national ban on them. However, only 13 states allow lottery games, while the rest have banned them. These states are Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Goa, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Punjab, Sikkim, and West Bengal. Each state has its own lottery schemes, which are regulated by the state government and the lottery department.

Gambling activities, such as casinos, horse racing, and online betting, are also restricted to a few states, such as Goa, Daman, Sikkim, and Nagaland. These states have issued licenses to operators who run casinos, online gaming platforms, and sports betting sites. However, these activities are subject to strict rules and taxes, and are monitored by the authorities.


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