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Can I run a private lottery in India?

Lotteries are games of chance that involve drawing numbers for a prize. Many governments conduct official state lotteries to generate revenue, while most countries heavily regulate or prohibit private lotteries. In India, lotteries are a state subject under the Constitution. States regulate lotteries conducted within their jurisdiction while private parties are prohibited from conducting lotteries independently. However, the law on private lotteries contains several gray areas leading to confusion on what is legally permitted. This article examines whether private persons can conduct lotteries in India and under what conditions.

Legality of Lotteries in India

The Constitution of India under the Seventh Schedule lists ‘lotteries organised by the Government of India or the Government of a State’ under List II entry 40 as a state subject. This implies that state governments have the power to legislate and regulate lotteries within their jurisdiction. They can conduct official state lotteries and license parties to operate lotteries on their behalf.

At the same time, Parliament can also regulate state lotteries under certain conditions. Entry 97 under the Union List gives Parliament the power to legislate on ‘any other matter not enumerated in List II or List III including any tax not mentioned in either of those Lists’. Using its residuary powers under this entry, Parliament has enacted the Lotteries (Regulation) Act, 1998 which regulates the conducting of lotteries by state governments. Section 4 of this Act prohibits the sale of tickets across state lines.

Private lotteries conducted without state authorisation are prohibited under the Lotteries (Regulation) Act as well as under the criminal law. Section 294A of the Indian Penal Code bans unauthorized lotteries with punishment of up to Rs. 1000 fine. Keeping a lottery office and advertising unauthorised games also attract penalties under the Act.

However, the term ‘lottery’ has not been defined under either the Constitution or central laws. This has led to ambiguity on what constitutes a prohibited lottery activity. Certain prize schemes offered by companies argue they are ‘games of skill’ and not lotteries which are pure games of chance. This legal argument has allowed a gray market space for private parties to conduct lottery-like activities.

Judicial Interpretation of Private Lotteries

Courts in India have attempted to define lotteries and distinguish them from prize games involving skills. Two landmark Supreme Court judgments have outlined the judicial stance on private lotteries – State of Bombay v. R.M.D. Chamarbaugwala (1957) and K.R. Lakshmanan v. State of Tamil Nadu (1996).

In the Chamarbaugwala case, the Court defined a lottery as an activity where one pays money for a chance to win a prize. It ruled that private lotteries lead to exploitation of the poor and the Court distinguished between ‘gaming’ (games of skill) and ‘gambling’ (games of chance). Only the latter were prohibited as trades under Article 19(6) of the Constitution.

The Lakshmanan case relied on the Chamarbaugwala definition to uphold bans on private lotteries in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. However, it stated games of skill were permissible. It outlined a ‘dominant factor test’ – where chance is the dominant factor determining the outcome, the activity amounts to a prohibited lottery. But where skill dominates, it is a legitimate business activity.

Relying on these rulings, most High Courts have struck down complete bans on prize schemes involving skills as unconstitutional. Only games of pure chance can be prohibited. Bans on all cash prize competitions, even if skills predominate, violates Article 19(1)(g) on the right to conduct trade and business.

However, High Court rulings have been inconsistent on what constitutes a skill-based prize scheme. Activities like rummy and horse-racing have been deemed games of skill in some states while prohibited as gambling in others. The Supreme Court is yet to conclusively rule on such games.

Regulation of Online Lotteries

The rise of the internet and online gaming platforms has created more regulatory blind spots around private lotteries. Many companies conduct lottery and betting activities online using arguments that the entire operation is skilled-based.

While states have imposed bans on online lotteries and rummy, their enforcement remains weak. The central government also proposed a new national-level law in 2021 to regulate online gaming – the Draft Online Gaming (Regulation) Bill. It aims to cover all types of games and competitions on digital platforms based on factors like entry fees, winnings and outcome determination. A final law is still awaited.

Further, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council has imposed a uniform 28% GST on state-run and state-authorised lotteries from 2019. But private online gaming platforms pay only an 18% GST at present on the gross gaming revenue. This tax arbitrage has made state governments allege unfair competition from private operators.

Until comprehensive central laws are enacted, the regulatory terrain for online private lotteries will remain unclear. State-level bans have proved inadequate while operators exploit legal loopholes allowing lottery-like operations.

Permissible Private Lottery Structures

Given the complex legal landscape, what kinds of lottery schemes can private parties legally operate in India?

State Authorization – Private entities can conduct lotteries if explicitly permitted by state legislation and under licenses. Around a dozen states allow online lottery play under strict regulations. Players must be located physically within the state borders while playing. Examples are Playwin Lottery run by Sikkim and Lottery Sambad in West Bengal. However, cross-border sales and online platforms dilute state oversight.

Conditional Exemptions – Certain prize competitions with relaxed chance elements are exempted from lottery prohibitions under some state laws. Kerala’s legislation exempts ‘Xmas bumper’ type lotteries whose draws are tied to specific festival occasions. Prizes are also capped at Rs. 25 lakhs in Kerala. Some other states also place limits on prize amounts or restrict the frequency of draws for exempted private lotteries. Operators must closely comply with all conditions.

Pure Skill Games – As per judicial rulings, games of skill are legitimate business activities which private parties can freely offer. These include physical games like carom, chess or golf with prize money, since skill dominates over chance. Online skill gaming platforms also argue they only host skill-based games. However, many such games have inherent chance elements whose skill-dominance is debatable. Regulators must assess the format closely.

On analysis, while state laws completely prohibit unauthorized private lotteries in theory, some limited lottery-style activities are permitted. Exemptions exist for small occasions, while platforms continue to run skill games with questionable legality. The law needs further clarification on where to definitively draw the line between prohibited lotteries, exempted lottery-like activities and pure skill games.

Requirements for State Lottery Licenses

For private parties interested in venturing into the lottery business legally, obtaining state licenses where permitted is the only option. The requirements and eligibility conditions vary across states. Some broad licensing regulations are outlined below:

– Number of Licenses – Most states restrict the number of lottery licenses granted in a year. Sikkim approved 10 online lottery licenses in 2020 for instance. Limited licensing ensures regulated operations.

– License Fees – States fix very high license fees running into crores annually, as lotteries are huge revenue sources. Kerala charges over Rs. 50 crores as license fees based on expected ticket sales. Applicants must demonstrate strong financial capacity.

– Technical Standards – Online lottery platforms must comply with geofencing, encryption, random number generation and other technical standards laid down by the State’s gaming regulator. Platform security is paramount.

– Ticket Sale Restrictions – Lottery licenses limit the maximum number of tickets sold, total prize values and draw frequency allowed per licensee. Limits range from Rs. 5 to 25 lakhs prizes per draw across states.

– Stakeholder Restrictions – In most states, lottery licenses are only issued to state government entities and welfare bodies, not private companies. Some states limit licenses to specific groups like ex-servicemen societies or local casinos. Private corporates often partner with such entities as lottery ticket distributors.

Overall, lottery licensing involves strict controls and high costs. Corporates must assess if state-authorized lottery operations are commercially viable given the stringent regulations. Partnering with state entities improves prospects of obtaining licenses where private parties are prohibited or face restrictions.

Offenses and Penalties

Running an unauthorized lottery attracts both civil and criminal penalties in India:

– Fines – Illegal lotteries under the Public Gambling Act and IPC attract fines up to Rs. 1000 per instance of gambling. Higher fines apply for repeat offenses or for owning lottery offices. Fines do not depend on lottery size and apply even to small operations.

– Imprisonment – Lottery offenses can attract prison sentences under the IPC ranging from 1 to 3 months. Abetting gambling through lotteries by allowing premises use also attracts fines and jail up to 3 months. Police raids and arrests are common on unauthorized lottery dens.

– Confiscation – Lottery equipment, cash, records and other assets used in unlicensed lotteries can be seized by state authorities. Their release is difficult once confiscated by the police. This dissuades illegal operations due to the capital at risk.

– Civil Suits – State governments routinely obtain injunctions from courts to restrain unauthorized lotteries under the Civil Procedure Code. These injunctions can later be enforced through contempt if violated. Damages claims are also filed against operators.

– Website Blocking – State governments approach the Department of Telecom under the IT Act to issue orders to Internet service providers to block access to illegal lottery websites. However, operators easily switch domains to bypass such blocking.

– Tax Denial – Prizes won in unauthorized lotteries are taxable income under the Income Tax Act. But due to lack of disclosure, tax avoidance is high. GST also goes unpaid reducing state revenues.

Overall, unauthorized lottery operations face crackdowns both under criminal and civil law. Small-scale operations attract lighter penalties but still involve legal risks and tax evasion. Obtaining state licenses remains the only lawful option.


To conclude, India has strict prohibitions against unlicensed private lotteries under both central and state laws. Only state governments and state-approved entities can legally operate lotteries under stringent regulations. Limited exemptions exist for small occasions and prize schemes in some states, but legal uncertainty around such lottery-style activities persists.

Pure games of skill enjoy constitutional protection, but many online skill games involve material chance elements that bring their legality into question. State bans on unauthorized online lotteries prove ineffective with operators exploiting legal ambiguity. Central legislation is needed to plug regulatory gaps in the online space.

For corporates interested in the lottery business, partnering with state welfare bodies to obtain licenses where permitted seems the prudent path. Small experimental lottery schemes even for charity may attract civil penalties and tax issues regardless of purpose. Overall, conducting unauthorized lotteries in any form involves significant legal risks and problems in India which private parties must consider.