For the last two years, there have been concerns raised in the Goa Legislative Assembly about the problems associated with online gambling, particularly the influence it has held on youngsters, who are suffering from an addiction to these games so much so that there have been numerous cases of suicides by such persons after sustaining losses.
These concerns have been raised outside the Assembly too by parents, educators, friends of those who lost their lives and the general society at large.
Peter F Borges, Chairperson of the Goa State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (GSCPCR) offered his perspective on this issue and what needs to be done to tackle it.
“The time is now. We need to take a deep dive in controlling the ill effects of online gaming among our children. The approach should be regulatory instead of banning and should contain efforts of the government, society, and family. Age-gating - verifying whether a user is above or below a certain age before permitting them to access an online service, needs to be taken on priority by the government,” said Borges.
“Parents role is of immense importance, i.e., to keep a watch and check over the games children are playing, money being spent by children online and prevent them from having unlimited access to parents’ bank apps and cards. There is a need to regulate screen time and promotion of off-screen activities like outdoor sports and outings in the family,” the GSCPCR Chairperson added.
“Gaming over extended periods of time contributes to negative impact on children’s physical and mental health. There is a need to create a cadre of professionals and build their capacity so that parents, teachers, and the children themselves, have access to professional help,” Borges added further.
Speaking about the proposed plan of action to combat these issues, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant stated that the State government is set to formulate a policy to ban online gambling advertisements and remove all hoardings promoting such activities.
In response to legislative demands for action against the rampant online gambling in the state, Sawant confirmed that all hoardings promoting online gambling and betting have already been taken down. He stated that 44 cases related to online gambling have been registered since 2019. Sawant refrained from disclosing further details or sharing copies of FIRs and chargesheets to preserve ongoing investigations.
Opposition leader Yuri Alemao had raised this issue emphatically in the Assembly along with other opposition MLAS.
“The month of April saw 300 deaths because of this online gambling fraud. Tamil Nadu has come out with a law. Will the Chief Minister bring in a strict law to curb this menace? Does the intelligence of Goa Police track these apps? Everyone knows who is operating these Apps. Future generations are getting spoiled. Curb these illegal online games. The government should not play with the lives of innocent people,” said Alemao.
Sawant acknowledged the difficulty of controlling app-based online gambling as players download these games on mobile devices, and admitted that youth are at risk of financial ruin from this vice, despite the crackdown.
“I will ask the officials to study the Tamil Nadu Act and if needed then we will think in that manner. But before that I assure that strict action will be taken against kiosks running (illegal casino) machines. These cases are mostly in the coastal belt. In the rural areas, people use mobiles (for online gaming). We have to crack down on the entire gamut of mobile games. I have seen seven different types of them including poker, IPL gaming, etc,” he said.
“The government has directed the Goa police department and Cyber Crime police to take action against online gambling locations, online lottery sites, and online casinos. Currently, 11 on-land and six offshore casinos are operating in the state with no entry allowed for Goans,” Sawant added.
Earlier, Alemao claimed that online gambling was going on through over 500 locations and that their daily turnover was close to Rs 30 crore. He further went on to allege that the illegal activities go on unabated in connivance of the police and Cyber Crime.
“Youth are falling prey to online gaming and commit suicide when they lose. There should be a crackdown on illegal online gaming. These illegal activities are taking place in every constituency of the state. They are not taking place only in Canacona constituency represented by Speaker Ramesh Tawadkar. He should advise the government about how to curb these activities,” Alemao said.
“I voiced my concern over the rampant and fearless operation of Online Gambling in my Constituency and in Goa. I felt compelled to raise this issue during the current Assembly session to seek appropriate measures to save our youth and society from destruction to ensure the eradication of such practices,” said Quepem MLA Altone D’Costa.
He also pointed out how youth are suffering and gave information about shops in rural areas that are allegedly promoting such activity.
Benaulim MLA Venzy Viegas also said that evidence can be submitted to the Chief Minister if needed but provided action is initiated on that.
Fatorda MLA Vijai Sardesai said that advertisements of these illegal businesses should be stopped.
“Hoardings of online gaming and illegal casinos should be pulled down from all the sites. If advertisements are stopped, then people will not come to know about it. First solution is to stop the advertisements,” Sardesai said.
Last year, BJP MLA Sankalp Amonkar, who was with the Congress earlier, had also raised this issue wherein he demanded that a ban be imposed on online gambling as many youngsters had fallen prey to the addiction and were losing money.
“Many governments have banned online gaming and the Goa government should also ban it,” he demanded. “One can start playing these games at Rs 5 to Rs 10,000. One can even extend that limit to over Rs 40,000 per day. It is a complete scam and the government is not monitoring it,” Amonkar had said.
Concerned parents also shared their experiences in dealing with such situations where their child had got an addiction to the game.
“The worst thing is that we did not know about what was happening. We keep a check on what our children do but we are unable to keep a check all the time. Due to online education, it was important that the child had access to the phone and it also helped us generally in keeping tabs about their whereabouts. We only discovered later that he was using this when he was away from home,” said a housewife from a rural part of South Goa, who wished to remain anonymous to protect her son’s identity.
“We sensed something was wrong when he started borrowing money on the pretext that it had to do with some school or tuition fees. We always handle these payments directly and the sums he was asking for were too high for what he was claiming it was for. We had given it the first time when it was a small amount but when we checked about the activity, we noticed that the story was not adding up. Later when we checked, there were no such activities conducted at all,” she added.
“After some investigation and by speaking to other parents, we realised there was a pattern. Even then we thought it was some small thing like the children bunking school to go play somewhere or watch a movie at a theatre and while we were not happy with this, we did not imagine it could have been something else. It was only when we heard about a suicide in a neighbouring village and how it was over money and online gambling, that we sensed this could be the issue,” she added further.
“We immediately confiscated the phone and now we provide it to him for educational related purposes and that too under our supervision. We were quite shocked to discover that there was a third party that would set up accounts and help them pay for these online games but in doing so they would rack up big debts. In our case, the amount of money spent was not too high but it was clear that if he had not intervened when we did, he would have faced a similar situation like others,” she concluded.