International Skill-Based Real-Money Gaming: Is It Legal?

Previously, I wrote about the legality of skill-based real-money gaming in the United States. But the U.S. is not the only country where skill-based games are popular – real money competition is huge all over the world. For example, in India, skill-based gaming is not only a popular source of entertainment, but is also becoming a way to make a living. According to Ronaldo Landers, the CEO of the All India Gaming Federation, smartphone gaming has been the most significant contributor to the growth of real-money skill game business in India. That market alone is expected to gross close to $1 billion in revenue by 2025. Market studies currently estimate 350 million gamers in India and have reported a 21% increase in transaction-based gaming, with consistent growth expected in the near term.

Despite the worldwide popularity of skill-based gaming, legal compliance remains a challenge. The law is obviously different in each country and whether skill-based money games are legal depends on where you are. Sometimes there is no uniform national approach – both the United States and India regulate gaming on a regionalized state level. In India, each state has the power to make its own betting and gambling laws, which has led to a patchwork of legislation and judicial decisions. For example, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have banned all real-money games (whether gambling or skill based), Tamil Nadu permits skill games only, and Kerala has expressly banned real-money online rummy. The lack of national principles and regulations has even resulted in conflicting judicial decisions about whether poker is a skill-based or chance-based gambling game. The Gujarat and Bombay High Courts have determined that poker is a game of chance – while at the same time the Karnataka High Court has reached the opposite conclusion. To add to the confusion, the Supreme Court of India has opined that rummy is a skill game except if played for real-money stakes or if operators make a profit.

In Europe, gambling is generally governed on a national level. This means that each country has their own set of laws that define and regulate gambling. Skill-based games that fall outside the definition of gambling are permitted. For example, one popular skill-game platform active in the European Union only offers real money cash gaming in Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Romania, Spain, and Sweden. However, players located in France, Portugal, Italy, etc., are restricted to play for virtual “play” money only. All countries either regulate or outright prohibit gambling, so the question comes down to whether a particular skill-based game falls within that country’s definition of “gambling.” That question can only be answered by careful application of the particular country’s laws to the specific characteristics of the game.

What about cross-border play? Can a company based in the United States, India, or Germany offer games between players in different countries? It depends on where the players are located. In the United States, federal law does not prohibit skill-based real-money gaming. The most significant legislation – the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 – restricts financial transactions associated with “betting or wagering” if the “betting or wagering” is illegal where it is initiated or received. The UIGEA does not apply to most skill-based games, which are not a “game subject to chance.” But even if it involved a “bet or wager,” skill-based gaming is not unlawful in the majority of the states in the United States. So long as the bet or wager is legal in the state where it originates and in the state or country where it s received, there is no federal prohibition on the activity.

From a practical perspective, most skill-based gaming companies put the onus on the players to determine whether real-money skill-based gaming is legal in their particular jurisdiction. This is especially the case with non-U.S. based players – the terms and conditions require the end users to do their own due diligence. Of course, before a company can offer its skill-based game on a different country’s Apple App Store, the company will have to comply with that country’s specific terms and requirements. For instance, there may be geo-restriction or geo-location requirements. It is also likely that Apple (or Facebook for advertising purposes) will require a legal opinion about the legality of the game in the host country as well as the other countries where competitors are located.

Cross-border competition can be especially attractive to players looking to compete against friends and family located abroad. Gaming plays an important part in many cultures and increased accessibility through the internet and mobile app gaming presents opportunities for users to enjoy real-money gaming no matter where they are actually located. Whether celebrating the lunar new year through some fun family games or simply challenging your cousin to a $5 game of 8-ball, skill-based money games are a growing, popular market and business opportunity all over the world.

Have more questions? Need an expert legal opinion? Need help getting your app through the Facebook, Apple, or Google review process? Contact Dan Artaev today by emailing or by phone or text at (269) 930-0254.

Disclaimer: This guide is not intended to be and does not constitute legal advice. It is for informative and promotional purposes only. Do not take any action or refrain from taking any action based on this guide, and always consult with a qualified professional about the circumstances of your particular case. Each set of facts is unique and different circumstances apply to each individual business.

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