Why did the FAU-G developer get defamation notices from ‘avid Rummy players’?

Vishal Gondal suggested playing online Rummy amounted to gambling and six people said they got offended or were ostracized because of his comments. But there may be more to it than that.

ByMeghnad S
Why did the FAU-G developer get defamation notices from ‘avid Rummy players’?
Shambhavi Thakur
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On January 19, Vishal Gondal, founder of N-Core Games which created the Akshay Kumar-endorsed FAU-G, wrote an article for Medianama. He detailed the state of Real Money Gaming, or RMG, and how gambling is flourishing in India in the name of gaming.

A month later, Gondal received six legal notices, all sent within a few days, claiming that his article and some of his tweets had ruined their reputations.

After he put out a Google drive link containing the notices, we decided to do a few things. One, find out who these people are that claim their reputations were ruined by Gondal’s utterances. Two…

This led us down into the world of Indian online gaming and a war of attrition going on between a few key players in the industry, which is estimated to be worth $1.1 billion.

On one side are people who claim games with speculative elements shouldn’t be categorised as “gambling”. The other side believes that skill-based games shouldn’t be clubbed with Rummy, Fantasy Cricket and similar games that allow users to earn cold hard cash by betting.

Sounds complex? That’s because it is.

‘Why did you call me a Gambler?’

The notices sent to Gondal are quite fun. No seriously, the arguments made in them are bizarre and it’s wonderful that someone spent time and energy to come up with these seminal pieces of literature.

Take a look at what Abdul Amir Amiro from Delhi says in his notice:

The tweet Aamiro refers to is this one from February 1:

For the uninitiated, Rummy is a card game which has exploded in the recent past thanks to popular apps such as Rummy Circle, Junglee Rummy and Ace2Three. They allow people to bet amounts varying from Rs 10 to Rs 5,000, while the payout can range from Rs 100 to several lakh after multiple rounds of play.

Read this article on the Ken, which has investigated the Rummy app industry and how people can be tricked into losing their entire life’s savings.

Another notice to Gondal has come from Kuldeep Kumar, described as an honest tax-paying citizen and avid Rummy player in Chandigarh. He claims that his family has “shunned” him and treats him like a “nobody” after Gondal’s remarks.

What’s more, Kuldeep also mentions in the notice how Gondal, whose company created the desi PUBG clone FAU-G, has created games which are full of “bloodshed, mayhem and bloodbath”. He takes a further dig at Gondal’s game by comparing it to Rummy, a “skill-based game”.

You must be wondering why there is a specific mention of “skill-based game”. We’ll come to that in a bit.

Then there’s Siraj Khan from Indore who is described in his notice as “a respectable person” with a “sterling character apart from a clean credit history”. He’s “currently self-employed and looking to create a startup”. Khan claims Gondal’s tweet has affected his business ambitions. How?

Well, like this:

Now that the religious, economic and business losses angles are covered, we come to Anurag Payal from Tehri Garhwal, Uttarakhand. Payal complains that he is shook. He claims Gondal’s utterances have caused him much mental trauma.

The other two complainants are Bhupinder from Solan, Himachal Pradesh, and Sarthak Mishra from Gwalior. They repeat the same claims which boil down to this:

  • They are avid online Rummy players and respectable members of society with friends and family.

  • Their friends and family know that they are avid Rummy players.

  • Their friends and family read Vishal Gondal’s article and tweets pointing out that Rummy is a form of gambling and is addictive.

  • So friends and family have ostracized and cursed away these ‘avid Rummy players’ as gamblers.

  • They are traumatised because everyone thinks they are gamblers and addicts, which means their lives are ruined.

  • It’s all your fault, Vishal Gondal, so, here, take this legal notice.

Half a dozen traumatized people

There is a pattern to these notices and the language used seems oddly similar. Three of the six notices begin by describing the plaintiff as an “honest tax-paying citizen of India”. Also, two of the six notices begin with the plaintiff being referred to as a “reputed person/personality with a good image in the society”.

Further, clause 6 in two of the notices mentions Gondal’s Medianama article and quotes the exact same lines in the same format.

We looked up the people who have sent Gondal notices and came up with some interesting findings. Of the six plaintiffs, one has a distinct online presence. The rest don’t.

Abdul Amir Amiro, whose religious sentiments Gondal’s statements hurt, is described in the notice as a “public figure”. He claims to be a member of the Central District Level Committee for the Delhi police. He has formerly been president and vice president of the BJP in the Darya Ganj Mandal and the Chandani Chowk district, respectively, and is currently the chairman of the Yuva Sangharsh Samiti, a Residents’ Welfare Association. He contested the 2014 parliamentary election from Chandni Chowk as an independent.

We also found that he has registered a complaint through the Yuva Sanghash Samiti against an FIR by the Delhi URS Committee against television news anchor, Amish Devgan.

We called Amiro to ask why he sent the notice to Gondal and which app he used to play Rummy? Amiro replied he had told his lawyer what the problem was, instructed him to draft a complaint, signed it, and sent it forward.

Amiro refused to speak further and redirected us to his lawyer, Hemant Chaudhary. When we asked the lawyer which app Amiro played Rummy on, he said he was incapacitated due to a leg fracture and could not give us any details about the matter. He promised to do so in a few days once he was back on his feet. We will update this report if he does respond.

We called the other five lawyers named in the notices, seeking details of their clients who are facing ostracisation and harassment from friends and family. One said he was travelling and would get back, the phone numbers of two were out of service, one refused to divulge any details, and the last one said he would get back in a day. After multiple attempts to contact him subsequently, his phone was switched off. We will keep trying to get in touch with him and update the story if we get a response from any of the lawyers.

Now, let us get to the big picture behind this saga. And it really has turned into a saga because as I write this a seemingly unrelated yet related trend has popped up on Twitter.

Classic copy-paste behavioural trend.

So why is Gondal and his game, FAU-G, being targeted?

Real Money Gaming

“There are apps that let people indulge in gambling but they call them something else. They are calling them ‘Real Money Gaming’, which is a made up term by this industry,” Gondal explains. We spoke with him to understand the context for this whole saga and why six people might have grown so upset with his tweets, statements and his Medianama article as to send him legal notices.

“Gambling is prohibited in varying degrees all across the country,” he said. “So when I called these apps a form of gambling it was bound to cause some heartburn.”

Gondal is often described as the “father of Indian gaming industry”. He sold his first entrepreneurial venture, IndiaGames, to the Walt Disney Company. Then he founded GOQii and nCORE Games, which operate in the healthcare and gaming sectors, respectively.

Gondal said there was big money to be made in ‘Real Money Gaming’ apps, which are based on speculative predictions and betting. “Such apps are regulated worldwide in the category of gambling. Even Google and Apple app stores don’t allow these apps to be hosted, so users have to download .apk files from the company website in order to install them.”

As a gamer, Vishal said it hurt him to see actual skill-based games being classified with games which are luck-based and speculative and which are being passed off in the competitive gaming or ‘e-Sports’ category. In a skill-based game, he explained, the player has the choice to affect their victory or loss while climbing up a learning curve after playing it multiple times.

“These other betting apps don’t have that element of skill,” he said. “Plus, they can become addictive and genuinely harmful because people can gamble away their entire life savings. We need proper centralized regulation for such apps. This is corrupting our young citizens.”

But his own game, FAU-G, also lets people spend money? Gondal replied that the money spent on his app is to buy digital products.

“In the games we develop, we allow users to spend money to buy gun skins and different gear for their characters,” he explained. “We don’t allow reselling for a profit and we don’t say we will double someone’s money if they play our game. Our games also have appropriate age ratings implemented by Google, Apple. People need to understand there’s a difference between actual games and gambling.”

Speaking of regulation, currently it’s left to each state to make laws allowing or banning gambling within its territory. With online apps coming in, those boundaries don’t really matter and there is a vital need for central regulation, especially for online gaming.

Industry bodies such as the All India Gaming Federation, Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports, and The Online Rummy Federation have adopted good governance, ethical measures, and consumer-centric initiatives for apps that have a speculative element to them. On the other hand, there are bodies like the Esports Federation of India which represent games that are skill-based.

The two sides are locked in battle: one says speculative gaming has an element of skill to it, so it should be allowed. The other side contends that gambling shouldn’t be clubbed with skill-based games. This is far from over.

Salil Ahuja contributed reporting.

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