India’s Maharashtra mulls legal online gambling to boost gov’t revenue


Legal online sports betting could be coming to the Indian state of Maharashtra as the local government mulls ways of topping up its depleted treasury.

Last Friday, the Times of India quoted an unidentified National Congress Party minister in the state of Maharashtra saying the local government was reviewing a report detailing the impact of legalizing online betting and possibly other forms of gambling.

The government established a task force headed by a former finance minister a few months ago as the state’s financial taps began to run dry due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic impact. The task force was asked to consider the obstacles to legalizing and regulating online gambling.

For the record, this isn’t the first time that Maharashtra has publicly mused about legalizing online gambling. But as of the end of August, the state is estimated to have suffered a revenue shortfall of over Rs610b (US$8.3b) due to the pandemic, making any and all potential revenue sources newly attractive, despite previous qualms about their alleged social harms.

An unidentified bureaucrat said the task force’s report had considered the online gambling market in the state of Sikkim as well as the recommendations of the Lodha commission, which concluded that legalizing betting would help reduce match fixing in cricket.

Sikkim’s ‘online’ betting market is something of a misnomer, as it consists entirely of betting via terminals in retail shops. The state later tightened these rules even further to restrict betting to out-of-state tourists only, leaving (a) local residents on the outside looking in and (b) the state’s financial rewards minimal. 

India’s gambling rules are wildly inconsistent between individual states. Karnataka recently permitted the Bangalore Turf Club to offer online betting – a stance that Maharashtra suggested it would mimic – while Andhra Pradesh recently proposed a law that would sentence online gamblers to six months in prison for a first offense.

The disparity in gambling laws has put pressure on India’s central government to introduce a national regulatory framework for gambling that will modernize the existing laws, which date back over 150 years.