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Many seasoned gamers across the country were left disappointed when the government banned PUB-G, a multiplayer battle royal game. This isn’t the only game which went viral amongst millennials and others in India. Over the last 10 years, the online gaming industry has seen a massive evolution thanks to smartphones and tablets. Investments from major global players led to the rapid growth of the gaming industry, with nearly half the total global gaming revenues being from the Asia-pacific region.

Online gaming usually works on a subscription model. Most games are free to download, and users get charged only if they choose to access premium content and make in-app purchases. While certain games are played purely for the thrill of it, there are other games which offer players a chance to win real money. Some of the games in which players can earn real money include games such as poker, rummy, sporting games such as cricket and football, quizzes, and battleground games. The fact that any person can earn money from online gaming has been an incentive for the younger generation to become ardent gamers.

So how are winnings from online gaming taxed in India? The provisions of income earned from online gaming fall under section 115BB of the Income Tax Act. This comes under the head ‘Income from Other Sources’ while filing income tax returns. It includes winnings from betting, gambling, card games or any other games. Hence, winnings from online gaming also fall under this category.

Winnings from online gaming are taxed at a flat rate of 30%, excluding cess. The net rate after cess amounts to 31.2%, without the benefit of the basic exemption limit. It is to be noted that the person paying out the prize money needs to deduct tax at source before distributing the winnings. This is a TDS provision laid down under section 194B and is applicable only if the winnings exceed 10,000. No deduction or expenditure is allowed to be claimed against such income.

Gamers should know that any winnings on which TDS has been deducted will still need to be disclosed in their income tax returns. The gaming companies take the gamer’s PAN along with the bank account details, however, the gamer’s responsibility does not end with providing these details. The reporting of such income earned will need to be done at the time of filing of the gamer’s tax returns as well.

If the winnings are received in kind, which is rare in the mobile gaming world, but quite common in other online/TV show gaming, then the tax rate will be applicable on the market value of the prize received in kind. The prize distributor will need to deduct the tax before transferring the prize to the winner, or the same can be borne by the prize distributor himself.

The online gaming industry currently has about 300 million users in India. This number is expected to double over the next two years, with some gaming companies already seeing a 100% spike in new user registrations since the start of the lockdown. If even a small percentage of this number of results converts to winnings, it could be a huge source of revenue for the government.

(The author is the founder and CEO - ClearTax)

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