A country of 1.2 billion people but only four legal ways to gamble, India is a huge untapped market.
With a population of over 1 billion India is now the “world’s largest democracy.” The country is teeming with people and boasts a burgeoning middle class. Does it have a gambling market to match? No. At least not a legal market. Indians love to gamble, but restrictive legislation means that most such activities are underground, untaxed and unregulated.
According to estimates from the Independent, only 2 percent of annual gambling revenue is produced by licensed venues. While the legal market is undeveloped, there are a few legitimate options available. If you find yourself looking to gamble or invest in the gambling industry in India, read this.
Horseracing and nothing else
To bet on sports in India is highly popular. According to the Independent, the betting market takes in GBP 40 billion in bets annually according to the Independent. The Indian Football League and Indian Premier League cricket are the most popular, with cricket reportedly accounting to over half of the total wager. The problem is that none of these bets were placed legally.
Horseracing is the only legitimate form of sportwagering in the country. It was legalized in 1996 when the Supreme Court declared it to be a game of skill (which begs the question: why aren’t cricket and football betting games of skill?). The country’s few legal casinos and horseracing outlets take in only about $400 million in annual revenue, tiny in comparison to the massive black market. UK bookies William Hill, Betfair and Bwin have shown interest in tapping this market, but haven’t been able to obtain licenses.
Those who want to place bets can visit any legally licensed race track, which are located across the country. If you want to bet on anything else, visit an underground operation or foreign-based betting site. Violators can be imprisoned for up to one month, but the authorities have shown little interest in going after these illicit card rooms and gambling dens.
Sikkim and Goa
The country is not very accommodating to casino gamblers, although Indian gambling laws permit states to write their own laws. Land-based casinos are licensed in two of India’s states: Sikkim and Goa. India’s first legal casino since 1867, the Mahjong, opened in Sikkim in 2001. It remains the only casino in the state, offering the standard fare of Vegas-style table games and slot machines. Sikkim is India’s least-populous state and one of its most remote, so the Mahjong is not available to many in the country.
• Land-based casinos are legal in only two states, Sikkim and Goa, and did not open until 2001
• Horseracing is the only legal sportsbetting event in India, although it is estimated that GBP 40 billion is wagered annually
• India has one licensed betting site: Playwin, the state lottery of Sikki
Goa boasts seven land-based casinos in addition to five riverboat casinos located on the Mandovi river, each specializing in table games. The first of these opened in 2001, with Goa’s casinos catering primarily to tourists from the Arabian Peninsula. However, state chief minister Manohar Parrikar announced that all riverboat casinos must leave by 2015, when their licenses will expire.
Local gamblers received bad news earlier this year when Parrikar announced the government would ban citizens of Goa from the casinos as of March 2014. This further reduces the legal gambling opportunities available to citizens and will likely push even more of them into underground gambling dens.
Lottery, India status
Lottery is legally provided in five of India’s states: the Punjab, Sikkim, Kerala, Goa and Maharashtra. Federal law banned private lotteries in 1967, allowing only state-run lotteries to serve customers. Kerala was the first to do so, with others following quickly behind, seizing on the opportunity to produce public revenue.
All states are free to provide this service to residents, but only the abovementioned have chosen to do so. Kerala’s state lottery offers seven different games and employs almost 500 people. With the exception of Sikkim these state’s offer only land-based services in which players must purchase lottery tickets. This is one example of India falling behind other emerging betting markets, as online and mobile lotteries are available even in developing markets like Kenya and Vietnam.
Getting virtual in India
There are no licensed online casinos in India. But for a country without online casinos, internet gambling in India is extremely popular. While it is not legal to gamble online, it is not expressly “illegal” either. There are no specific laws against visitors of foreign-operated casinos and betting sites, and millions of Indians use them. However, it can be difficult to make payments to foreign operated sites, and regulators sometimes block these transactions.
India is home to exactly one officially licensed betting site, the Sikkim-licensed Playwin, which launched in 2001. Bettors can purchase tickets for five different lottery games. While Playwin is licensed in remote Himalayan Sikkim, residents of states across India can purchase tickets on the site. Tickets for Playwin can also be bought via mobile phone. Sikkim announced in 2010 that it planned to launch three additional betting sites, but so far no moves have been made.