India launches first ‘online’ sports betting shop; online lotteries earn court’s ire

golden-gaming-sikkim-bettingIndia launched its first ‘online’ sports betting operation this week, but don’t go looking for it using your browser.

Thursday saw the launch of the first sports betting and gaming arena in Gangtok, the capital of the state of Sikkim. The new ‘gaming zone’ is operated by Golden Gaming International (formerly Maarm International), which began offering ‘online’ keno and virtual horseracing services at multiple locations in the state last December.

The new Gangtok venue has expanded Golden Gaming’s betting palette to include cricket, tennis and football wagers, as well as non-sports games like roulette and the popular Indian card game teen patti.

The ‘online’ description being thrown around by most media outlets is a tad misleading, as what’s on offer is simply the opportunity for punters to pop into a shop and place a wager via an ‘intranet gaming terminal.’

Local legislators passed the Sikkim Online Gaming (Regulations) Amendment Bill last July, a scaled down version of their original plan to allow licensees to offer services to punters across India. But objections from states with dimmer views of gambling prompted the central government to force Sikkim to keep its ‘online’ action within its own borders.

Sikkim legislators hope the requirement to be physically present in the state to wager will give tourism a boost. But operators still harbor dreams of expansion beyond Sikkim’s borders. Golden Gaming director Manoj Sethi suggested other states should “study the unique model created by the Sikkim government and legalize, regulate and license gambling and betting.”

Sethi celebrated his company for launching “the first such initiative in the country,” which he said would provide employment opportunities and boost the state’s tax revenue. Golden Gaming and other ‘online’ licensees are required to pay the state 10% of their profits or Rs 50m (US $747k) per year, whichever is higher.

Thursday’s grand opening of the Gangtok venue was headlined by retired cricket legend Kapil Dev (pictured). However, in a vivid illustration of the country’s complicated relationship with sports betting, Dev was happy to cut the ceremonial ribbon but refused invitations to place the first football bet on one of Golden Gaming’s machines, insisting that he was “not a betting person.”

In addition to Golden Gaming, Sikkim has issued three other gaming and lottery licenses to the Sugal & Damani Group, Future Gaming Group and Essel Group’s Playwin brand. The same geographic restrictions apply to online lottery operators but it seems not everyone is playing by the rules.

This week saw a social worker appeal to a court in the state of Maharashtra to do something about what he claimed were unauthorized online lotteries marketing their wares to Maharashtra punters from outside the state.

There are 13 lottery operators authorized to offer online sales in Maharashtra but the petitioner claimed state residents had access to 1,300 such sites, many of which were based in stakes like Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and – yes – Sikkim.

The petitioner further claimed that many of these unauthorized operators were offering single-digit games in which the winning numbers were announced every 15 minutes, which the petitioner claimed was fostering gambling addiction in the state.

The Times of India reported that court issued notices to governments in the states cited by the petitioner, seeking their formal response. The court also sent a notice to the central government seeking its opinion on the allegations.

The government’s reaction can easily be predicted. Last November, India’s Supreme Court upheld the rights of states to decide for themselves whether their residents can access out-of-state online lotteries.