Sometime in early January GOQii and FAU-G fame Vishal Gondal wrote about the ills of real money gaming in India on a digital media platform. Little did he realise that it would turn into one of the biggest legal battles of his life.
"It is not a good feeling to wake up every morning to find legal notices," Gondal who has received 11 legal notices from people across the country for writing an article on a digital media platform against real money gaming told Moneycontrol over a Zoom call.
It all started after Gondal wrote an article which was published by Medianama in January titled -- In The End, The House Always Wins: The State Of Real Money Gaming In India.
In his article, Gondal has stated that online gambling platforms advertise themselves as a source of reliable income, rather than as a source of entertainment. "This misrepresentation has not just caused loss of income and economic hardship to lakhs of customers, it has even led to suicide in some cases. People are not signing up to these platforms for the joy of gaming, but rather a chance at making a quick buck. When their luck runs out, who will be holding the buck?" read his article.
"Many online gambling sites prominently feature games that favor the house. Furthermore, most online gambling makes use of a computer science concept known as random number generators (RNGs). These RNGs are well-known as being prone to rigging if not audited effectively. It is critical to note that even if opponents seem human, there is no way to verify that they are not bots," it added.
He also questioned the involvement of celebrities such as Virat Kohli as an endorser who endorsed Mobile Premier League (MPL) which was later banned in states like Assam, Odisha, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
Almost after a month of writing this article, Gondal started receiving these notices. Out of the 11 notices, at least two notices have been sent from states like Bihar, Uttarakhand Madhya Pradesh and Punjab. While one each from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal and Karnataka.
Moneycontrol has seen copies of these notices.
One of the notices from Solan, Himachal Pradesh says that that "After seeing Gondal's articles his clients' friends and relatives have started "treating and considering his client as a gambler" and that his reputation has been "lowered down in the eyes and estimation of friends, relatives and public at large".
The notice has demanded Gondal to delete his tweets and article within 15 days of the receipt of notice failing which they will initiate civil and criminal cases against him.
Another notice which has come from Abdul Amir Amiro, a Delhi resident says that he has been fond of playing Rummy with his friends, offline and started laying it online a few months ago. He found the contents of Tweets "insinuative and defamatory in element and essence... not only discouraging people to play the game by calling it suicidal but are also labeling the people who play this game as gambler... from your Tweet my clients public image was tarnished as unknown people started calling him gambler".
He has demanded Rs 25 lakh in compensation harassment, depression and loss of reputation besides Rs 22,000 for covering the cost of the legal notice.
Expressing his unawareness, Gondal said he had no idea where these notices were coming from. He however claimed that most of these notices had a similar pattern and it was likely that this was being done on purpose by a vested body.
"These notices have similar content. Some of them even have the same paragraphs. So it really sounds like something which has been done as an organised way to harass somebody. These notices are clearly an attempt to intimidate me and get me embroiled in multiple cases across the country and they are completely outlandish in whatever they are trying to say," said Gondal.
But what prompted him to write the article in the first place? In his own submission, Gondal was triggered when some of these real money gaming companies made a representation to the sports ministry to be recognised as e-sports in December.
"That was the height of my patience that you cannot have gambling as a sport in any country," he said.
India has debated the legality of real money games like Rummy, Poker and Fantasy sports for at least the last few years.
Ordinances have been passed in states like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to ban real money online games.
In his response to these notices, Gondal has stated that if the complainants do not withdraw their notices immediately with a written apology, he will initiate legal proceedings against them.
He has also said that whether such games are game of skill or chance is yet to be decided by the Supreme Court. In his response, he has strongly denied that he is "forcing anyone to play his own game by providing his genuine and honest opinion about other online games. It is denied that our client is trying to extort or cheat any person. Further, as stated above, the comments and articles written by my client were a result of arduous research and studies and cannot be termed as propaganda."
According to Gondal, who sold his first company IndiaGames to Walt Disney in 2003, it is up to the government to decide whether it needs to be regulated, monitored or banned.
"It's a decision of the state and as adults, people can consume alcohol, cigarettes but people should know that this is something which has these repercussions and they can make those decisions. Right now an attempt has been made to say that these are just innocent computer games just like you are playing Mario or Clash of Clans," he said.
Gondal currently runs action gaming startup nCore Games which has games like FAU-G. When asked if there was an inherent conflict, he said that unlike real money gaming his game did not have any element of money making activities. The company made money when players bought in app guns or swords while playing the game.
The GOQii and FAU-G fame serial entrepreneur and startup investor has offered mental counseling to all the people who have sent legal notices after getting impacted with his article.
Many of the notices sent to him claim that their clients are facing mental trauma because Gondal called real money gaming as betting and gambling.
"Our client in good faith is ready and willing to organize counselling sessions for your client taking into consideration the addiction and heavy anxiety caused by playing these Real Money Games," the response reads.
It remains to be seen what legal turn the issue takes from here.