India gaming news: bookies flee cities, protest tax hikes; Goa casino fee fury

TAGs: Goa, India

india-bookies-goa-casinosWith the Indian Premier League Season 5 now underway, IBNlive spoke to some “high-profile bookies” who claimed illegal cricket betting turnover would reach Rs75b ($1.45b) on this year’s event. Such sums invariably attract police attention, and that has prompted more and more street-level bookies to take their activities digital, whether online or via text message. Daily Bhaskar went one better, saying, not only are bookies going online, they’re increasingly choosing to do so from rural areas, rather than India’s major cities, in the hopes that local yokel constabularies won’t put as high a premium on stamping out the ‘scourge’ of wicket wagers.

Hopefully, these SMS bookies don’t rely on BlackBerries to conduct their wagering operations. India Today reports that the country’s government snoops are on the verge of capturing and cracking encrypted messages sent by Research In Motion’s once-innovative but increasingly irrelevant technology. In October, faced with the possibility of being blocked entirely from the Indian market, RIM agreed to install a data facility in Mumbai to let government agencies (at least, the ones bearing court orders) sift through data traveling down the BlackBerry network. Time to start retraining those carrier pigeons, boys.

Of course, there would be less illegal betting in India if the politicians didn’t seem intent on taxing the legal types out of business. The Deccan Herald reports that horse bookies in Bangalore are freaking out over proposed huge tax increases on their livelihood. The increases – ranging as high as 500% – are especially galling because the state government’s motive is to make up for bookies evading the present tax.

Last month, seven betting agents at the Bangalore Turf Club received unannounced visits from Income Tax personnel, who discovered some of the bookies were keeping large wagers off their books to avoid the tax hit. The Bookmakers’ Association Bangalore warns that forcing honest bookmakers to pay more to offset the actions of an irresponsible few amounts to collective punishment. As bookmaker Ashoke Lalwani told IBNLive: “If the idea is to force punters to patronize the tote, it will fail as once bookmakers go out of business, tote betting too will fail. Unlicensed bookies may prosper.” (Especially those in rural areas who have trained pigeons to avoid BlackBerries.)

A different approach to bringing gaming operators into line with government policy was recently proposed in Goa. In announcing his 2012 state budget, newly installed Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar noted that the region’s six riverboat casinos weren’t always charging customers the mandatory Rs2,000 entry fee, so Parrikar proposed reducing the fee to Rs500. To offset the revenue hit the state would take under the reduced entry fee scheme, license fees for each of the floating casinos would rise from Rs50m ($970k) to Rs65m ($1.175m).

Goa residents – and even some members of Parrikar’s own party – were up in arms over the entry fee reduction, noting that Parrikar had campaigned against easier access to the casinos before he was elected. They seem to have missed Parrikar’s simultaneous pledge to introduce legislation to bar local residents from even setting foot in the casinos. Either that or they suspect that if the casinos can’t be arsed to charge the entry fee, why would they suddenly start screening for locals trying to board the betting boats?

Proportionally, Goa’s land-based casinos were hit even harder in the state budget, which called for license fees to rise from Rs1.5m to Rs25m. Casino association of Goa member Srinivas Nayak told the Times of India that the “unjustified” move was “like a slap on the investors face.” Nayak claims the fee hikes will result in 3,000 redundancies as casinos are compelled to either cut costs or shut down altogether.

Finally, the Madras High Court has reversed a ruling from November that said playing the card game rummy for stakes was not a crime. The case began in August when the Mahalakshmi Cultural Association sought court protection from the Chennai City Police busting up their rummy games. In November, a single High Court judge determined that rummy was a game of skill and therefore police shouldn’t be allowed to arrest or charge participants. The Director-General of Police filed an appeal, and last month a High Court division bench declared that if the games were played for money, they were indeed illegal. Worse, the judges’ ruling stated that playing cards for money represented “two evils. It corrupts the minds of the players, making them addicts, and it makes most of the players bankrupt.” Bankrupt, not unlike the logic on display at the High Court.


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