Adapting To Online Gaming Taxation Landscape In India: A Lesson In Historical Tax Policies And Present-Day Frameworks

Adapting To Online Gaming Taxation Landscape In India: A Lesson In Historical Tax Policies And Present-Day Frameworks

by Ashutosh Muglikar - Friday, May 26, 2023 12:58 PM IST
Adapting To Online Gaming Taxation Landscape In India: A Lesson In Historical Tax Policies And Present-Day FrameworksGST on online gaming, casinos and race courses (Representative image)
  • By learning from historical tax policies and adapting to the present, India can pave the way for a thriving and responsible online gaming ecosystem.

Tax policies play a crucial role in shaping economies and societies, and their effectiveness relies on their ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

A compelling example highlighting the need for tax policy evolution can be found in the history of the Salt Tax in France.

The tax, known as the "Gabelle," was introduced in the 14th century and persisted until the French Revolution. Initially implemented to finance wars and state expenses, the Salt Tax exemplifies the necessity of tax policy adjustments in response to societal and economic transformations.

When the Salt Tax was first introduced, salt was considered a precious commodity and an essential resource for preserving food. Taxing salt seemed like a reliable means of generating revenue, as it was a staple consumed by all segments of society.

However, as advancements in salt production and transportation made it more readily available, the tax burden remained disproportionately high, particularly affecting the lower socioeconomic classes.

The Salt Tax became regressive, imposing a heavier financial strain on those with limited incomes who relied on salt for their daily needs.

As the Salt Tax persisted despite changing circumstances, people sought ways to evade or minimize their tax obligations. Widespread smuggling and illicit salt trade emerged as individuals went to great lengths to avoid the tax, even risking severe punishment.

This resistance to the Salt Tax grew into a symbol of economic inequality and contributed to the societal unrest that eventually ignited the French Revolution.

The French Revolution of 1789 marked a turning point in history, driven by a deep-seated dissatisfaction with the existing economic and social order.

The Salt Tax stood as a poignant example of the burdensome tax policies that exacerbated the divide between the privileged and the common people.

In response to public outcry, one of the first acts of the revolutionary government in 1790 was the abolition of the Salt Tax, symbolizing the desire for more equitable and adaptive tax policies.

Applying Historical Lessons to Online Gaming Taxation:

Drawing parallels from the Salt Tax, it becomes evident that tax policies must adapt to the changing dynamics of the industries they govern.

In the case of India's online gaming industry, the need for policy reform has become increasingly apparent as the sector experiences unprecedented growth.

Factors such as widespread smartphone usage, accessible high-speed internet, and a young, tech-savvy population have contributed to the industry's rapid expansion.

However, the absence of a comprehensive regulatory framework has given rise to concerns regarding problem gambling, unethical practices, and transparency issues.

Recognizing the need for change, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeITY) took a significant stride forward by implementing the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules in 2023.

These rules, effective from 6 April 2023, brought about a comprehensive set of definitions, providing clarity on key terms such as 'online game,' 'online gaming intermediary,' 'online real money game,' and 'permissible online game'.

This terminological demarcation laid the foundation for more targeted and effective regulation.

Integral to the new regulatory framework is the establishment of Online Gaming Self-Regulatory Bodies (SROs) under Rule 4A. These bodies hold the power to verify and designate 'permissible online real money games,' creating a system of checks and balances within the industry.

The detailed criteria for entities to qualify as SROs ensure comprehensive and conflict-free self-regulation.

By allowing SROs to declare online real money games as permissible, the new rules move away from a blanket ban approach and promote a responsible gaming environment where operators can offer services within a clearly defined framework.

The Gameskraft Case: Legal Precedent and Industry Impact:

The recent landmark ruling by the Karnataka High Court in the Gameskraft case exemplifies the need for a flexible and adaptive taxation policy that aligns with the nuances of the online gaming industry.

The case centered on the classification of online rummy, a popular game on the Gameskraft platform, as a game of skill or chance. The distinction is crucial as games of chance attract a higher GST rate of 28 per cent, while games of skill are taxed at 18 per cent.

This landmark judgement dismissed the GST department's arguments and declared the hefty GST notice served to Gameskraft as 'illegal, arbitrary, and without jurisdiction'.

The Imperative of a Reconstituted GoM on Online Gaming:

Considering the ever-evolving nature of the online gaming industry, the GoM on online gaming must adapt to the changing scenario.

The introduction of MeITY's rules and the Karnataka High Court's landmark ruling in the Gameskraft case mark significant milestones in the development of the industry's regulatory landscape.

Reconstituting the GoM will enable it to incorporate these new developments, ensuring a robust and effective indirect tax framework that protects gamers while encouraging responsible growth in the industry.

The reconstitution and revision of ToR for GoMs on various sectors are not uncommon. In fact, they are essential for addressing the complexities and rapid evolutions of industries.

The GoM for GST rationalization and the GoM on the real estate sector serve as prime examples.

The GoM for GST rationalization underwent several meetings without reaching a conclusive decision on changes to GST slabs, ultimately requiring extended discussions and reevaluations.

The GoM on the real estate sector also experienced reconstitution with new members and the need for continual revisiting of ToR due to evolving challenges and market dynamics.

These examples demonstrate the necessity of adapting the ToR to address changing circumstances and emerging issues.

Striking a Balance for a Thriving Online Gaming Industry:

In conclusion, the lessons derived from historical tax policies like the Salt Tax in France emphasise the importance of adaptive tax systems.

The Indian online gaming industry's remarkable growth calls for an adaptable regulatory and taxation framework that ensures fair and equitable practices while promoting responsible growth.

Incorporating the MeITY rules and learnings from the Gameskraft case, the GoM on online gaming should be reconstituted to reflect the current realities of the industry.

Regular reassessment and revision of taxation policies, taking into account the dynamic nature of the sector, will ensure a conducive environment for the online gaming industry's sustainable and vibrant growth.

By learning from historical tax policies and adapting to the present, India can pave the way for a thriving and responsible online gaming ecosystem.

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