India is waking up to an all-encompassing central law on gaming. From constitutional tools to business imperatives and fundamental rights, the need of the hour is a think tank on this subject, devoted to identifying, evaluating, and brainstorming on the common threads of regulatory know-how across the entire gaming sector in India.
The gaming industry is currently undergoing significant and constant changes in relation to various aspects, such as amendments to state gaming laws, judgments by various High Courts and the Supreme Court of India, and an increased level of scrutiny by various enforcement bodies. It is anticipated that the gaming industry will see more significant changes in its regulatory framework in the coming years.
In our effort to share more about gaming laws with you, we interviewed Rachna Shroff, a gaming lawyer who has been working in the corporate industry for more than a decade.
- Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I have been working as a lawyer for over 13 years now. I have had the opportunity to work in different fields, but I found my calling in gaming and technology laws. I am a Gold Medalist in M.B.A - Human Resources at Sri Sri University, Odisha awarded by the Governor of Odisha and H.H.Sri Sri Ravishankar, lifetime president of the University and Founder- Art of Living. I am also a faculty with the Art of Living – conducting Happiness Programs. This is where I owe my success and define myself as a happy successful lawyer.
- Why did you decide to pursue law?
Law just happened! After 10th grade, I ended up choosing the Arts stream: we already had a family member studying Science, which made me realise that I wasn’t too inclined toward any other stream. When studying Arts, ‘political science’ as a subject interested me. My teachers suggested that law could be a suitable career path for me. So I took the necessary exams and landed in law school. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire journey of becoming a lawyer.
- What inspired you to pursue MBA after completing your law degree? How has it helped you in your career?
Law has now been combined with so many other streams, especially management studies. Some of the best universities in India today offer law and management courses together. Law cannot be looked at as a linear subject anymore; it has to be studied with other subjects as there is a need for technically advanced minds.
Coming back to the question, I wanted to study further but didn’t want to pursue the conventional path of LLM. My family was quite supportive, especially my older sister who encouraged me to pursue MBA. I improved both my technical and soft skills during my management studies. The way one communicates in the corporate world represents oneself, and deals with professionals are some of the major skills that I learned at business school. It enabled me to look at the bigger picture and widened my perspective, which I did not achieve while studying law. An in-house counsel ought to know how big corporations function. You have to connect with the business’s way of thinking and working. I learned to understand the company’s vision and strategies through management studies.
While I was working as a lawyer before business school, I observed that most other departments were in sync with each other. However, the legal department often seemed detached from the others such as human resources, operations, finance, etc. After having worked as an in-house counsel for several years, I have an understanding of other departments and the business perspective. This empathy and understanding of each other lead to teamwork, growth, contribution, negotiation, support, and a positive atmosphere at the workplace. Pursuing MBA is one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Also, being a law student in business school was quite an interesting experience. There were subjects such as business law which I was already familiar with. I remember teaching my peers the subject during exams.
- Please tell us what ‘gaming law’ is and how you ended up in this niche sector of law. How challenging or exciting do you find this area of law?
I think life is supposed to happen and it’s happening to me in the most beautiful way. All this while I was looking for my calling and I think I finally found it in gaming laws. I am in love with the sector: it is dynamic and challenging.
As to what gaming law is, we need to first understand that there is no particular “gaming law'' in India as of now. The legal basis for gaming in India lies in the pre-independence “Gambling Act” and a few landmark judgments from the Supreme Court, namely, RMD Chamarbaugwala v. UOI, KR Lakshman case, and Satyanarayana case. These cases gave us a rule that if there is a dominance of skill over chance in a game then it will be determined as a game of skill; if profits/earnings result from it, it will not be considered as gambling, wagering, or betting, rather it will be considered as a legal business activity which any organisation can run.
However, the pre-independence Act has given all the States the right to draft their own laws by adopting The Public Gambling Act. Currently, every State has its own rules, which poses a challenge for online gaming operations because there is no common or particular law, and the base is gambling laws which barely provide any clarity on gaming laws.
But, I am sure in the future when we have new digital/data protection laws or online gaming regulations, it will help the gaming industry with its particular set of laws. Then it would be more regulated and less complicated. The gaming sector is booming right now! There is no stopping this industry because people have to understand that it’s a subset of technology law that is growing fast in terms of revenue and market. We have to differentiate it from gambling and consider respect for the judgements passed by the judiciary. Thus the most important concern presently is a central piece of gaming legislation in the country.
- Recently, the Online Gaming (Regulation) Bill, 2022 was passed in Parliament. What is your opinion about banning online gaming in several States? Is India anywhere in line with becoming one of the fastest-growing online gaming industries?
India is one of the leading countries in Asia in terms of revenues and gamers, however, there has been a ban on online gaming in several States as every State has its own gaming laws. On one side while the sector is growing, on the other we have too many litigations and orders which are resulting in the complete banning of online gaming without any logical basis. Even Supreme Court precedents are being ignored.
The recent regulation bill is a good initiative but until and unless the committee comes to a conclusion, we have to wait and watch. I am hoping that they would take into consideration the global view on gaming and there is a balanced approach. The gaming industry has been generating so much revenue, huge amounts of taxes are being paid, employment opportunities have been generated, and more importantly, boosting India’s technological progress. It is an industry that is contributing tremendously to the country’s economy. With the banning of gaming in some states, we desperately need central legislation that provides clarification on how and when a ban can be imposed on gaming and also highlights the difference between a game of chance and a game of skill.
The Pandemic has resulted in an increase in the number of gamers in India. During Covid, the gaming law sector also gained popularity. Thus given the right support from the government in terms of regulations, India definitely is in the race to rule the gaming world.
- How was the experience as an in-house counsel in the gaming industry, what does your regular day look like?
Being an in-house counsel gave me an amazing amount of exposure as you don’t deal with one area of law. Your work includes dealing with litigation, contracts, regulation, compliances, taxation, etc. Apart from that you get the opportunity to train across the organisation, create policies, meet external agencies and work with top-notch counsels. Over the course of time if you stay in a particular industry then you develop the expertise of that industry. It is important to develop academics as well as your soft skills while studying because when you land, you would be learning the work in a completely new way. It would be a restart button when you move out of your college! So better to build your other skills while you’re developing your technical skills.
If you ask about my regular day as an in-house counsel then it consists of a lot of meetings, reviewing contracts, ad-hoc calls, emergency meetings, flying down to one city from another to hold meetings and conferences, training my team, and strategizing work. Apart from that, I individually hold workshops and webinars on gaming laws as I have realised that there are very few people who know about this area, especially the young generation of lawyers.
- What is your advice for students/young professionals who want to pursue a career in gaming law? How can they go about it? What avenues are open in this field? Who are the major players in the gaming industry in India?
My advice to everyone who is reading this is to keep calm and not fuss about getting a job or internship because you’ll definitely land where you should. Prioritise upscaling yourself, developing your skills, introducing yourself to self-care techniques such as yoga and meditation, developing hobbies, and developing your personality while you’re developing your technical skills as well. Prioritise developing your soft skills as this will give you an edge over others.
India has over 900 startups in the gaming industry; this is a huge pool. You can work as an in-house counsel or work with governmental agencies on policies helping them draft gaming regulations, or you can associate yourself with a law firm that deals with technology and gaming laws. This is an interesting time to work in this industry as the laws are still developing; there are a lot of opportunities to learn and contribute to the sector.
However, please don’t assume that this is an easy-going area of law with little work and great pay. I would like to stress that there are no shortcuts; one really has to work hard in this industry to achieve success. It is not an easy area, it is as hectic and fruitful as any other demanding job today.
Prioritise being happy and then work hard to achieve your goals rather than achieving goals and then being happy. Play sports, go trekking, have a social life, and contribute to society by being kind to people. Don’t wait for somebody to sympathise with you. Land your dream job/internship through your soft skills and personality. Build your skills first, find your area of interest and then pursue it. If you ever need any advice on how to develop your soft skills, reach out to me on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/rachnashroff/. I'll try my best to guide you!