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Indian government blocks 22 illegal betting apps and websites, including Mahadev Book

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has taken action against 22 illegal betting apps and websites following a request by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) amidst an ongoing investigation into alleged money laundering in India.

In April, MeitY introduced new rules under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) to ensure that only 'permissible' online real-money games could operate in India. However, the regulatory bodies to oversee these games have not been appointed yet.

The list of blocked apps includes Mahadev Book, which is currently under investigation by the ED for its alleged involvement in an illegal betting syndicate offering various live games, including poker, cricket, football, badminton, tennis and more.

According to the ED, a 'cash courier' statement led to the investigation, alleging that Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel received Rs 508 crore ($61m) from the app promoters based in the UAE.

Union Minister of Chhattisgarh State for Electronics and Information Technology, Rajeev Chandrasekhar,Online Casino Games noted that the state government had the authority to recommend the shutdown of such websites or apps under Sec 69A of the IT Act. However, the first and only request for action came from the ED.

In light of the investigation, the owners of Mahadev Book are now in custody, and among the accused are Bhim Singh Yadav, a constable in the Chhattisgarh Police Force and Asim Das. They have been arrested under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) for alleged money laundering offences.

This development comes in the context of previous challenges faced by Indian authorities in curbing illicit betting and regulating the market. In July 2023, the Goods and Service Tax Council in India decided to impose a 28% goods and service tax on online gaming, horseracing and casinos.

The decision to tax skill-based and chance-based games alike was met with mixed reactions. While some believed it would be a setback for Indian players and could lead to litigation, others regarded it as a move to curb the growing influence of illegal offshore platforms in the country.

Additionally, the Indian authorities have been dealing with the challenge of tackling illicit betting activities. In one incident, the Goa police arrested three individuals for their alleged involvement in illegal betting activities related to the World Cup cricket match between India and Afghanistan.