370 million participants: Navigating through India's ₹10.5 lakh crore sports betting landscape

Sports betting handle layouts (Image via Sportskeeda)
Sports betting handle layouts (Image via Sportskeeda)

Diving into India's sports betting scene is like navigating a maze of old rules and confusing online betting practices. It's like trying to play a game without clear instructions! On top of that, there's a big ongoing debate about whether to make sports betting legal or not. On one side, there are those cheering for its legalization, waving banners of increased revenue, job opportunities, and super-smooth regulation. On the flip side, others are worried about the risk of more addiction, corruption, and social hiccups.

As India dribbles through these complexities, one thing is as clear as a referee's whistle: finding a fair and solid game plan, with smart regulations, is the ultimate goal for the future of sports betting in the country.


Exploring the billion-dollar sports betting market in India through numbers


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In recent reports from Hindustan Times, it was revealed that there's a substantial amount of money, around ₹1,500 crore, being bet on every one-day international match involving the Indian cricket team. This practice extends to both domestic league seasons and international tournaments, accumulating to a staggering sum of ₹10.5 lakh crore over a year.

This information comes from the International Centre for Sports Security, based in Doha, and a more recent study by Nishith Desai Associates, which slightly revises the figure to ₹9.75 lakh crore.

Despite the massive sums involved, authorities have addressed this issue hesitantly and without strong determination. One notable effort was the Justice Lodha Committee, which aimed to gauge the scale of the problem and recommend effective solutions. Their findings estimated the Indian betting market at around ₹6 lakh crore, approximately $90 billion a few years ago (equivalent to about ₹7.38 lakh crore).

Adding to the discussion, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) provided their own estimations in 2019, particularly emphasizing the sector's potential impact on the national economy if it were properly legalized and regulated. According to the FICCI, the amount directly tied to sports events is roughly half of the aforementioned figure, at ₹3 lakh crore (~$41 billion) annually. This betting ecosystem involves a range of participants, from street-level bookies to offshore websites and private online forums.

The Indian enthusiasm for real-money gaming is evident in an estimated 370 million people participating in bets during major sporting events, with around 140 million engaging in regular betting activities. However, verifying these statistics remains challenging due to the largely off-the-record nature of these cash-based transactions.

One emerging segment within the realm of real-money gaming is fantasy sports, which have gained popularity across India. While relatively smaller in scale, these activities are legally considered skill-based gaming.

Industry experts cite transaction sizes as low as ₹25 to ₹40, although this has likely increased to a minimum of ₹50 after UPI (Unified Payments Interface) implemented restrictions on gaming transactions below this threshold. Nevertheless, the transparency and electronic nature of these operations provide stakeholders with a platform for planning, investment, and growth.

Some analysts and media outlets, possibly influenced by vested interests, periodically initiate discussions on regulating a sector that's valued at over ₹7.5 lakh crore and is consistently growing at an estimated rate of 7% annually. This argument holds significant weight in the context of sports betting, which constitutes the largest segment within India's real-money gaming market.

The FICCI had already proposed regulatory measures back in 2012 when the market was valued at ₹3 lakh crore, suggesting that regulation could address control, taxation, and business expansion concerns. Numerous countries facing similar issues have effectively implemented regulatory frameworks, serving as potential models for India.


Intensifying thrills: The role of betting in elevating experiences

Sports betting has been a part of India's history for a very long time, even tracing back to ancient times when people would bet on games and activities. The Rig Veda, an old Indian text, contains some of the earliest accounts of gambling, dating between 1700 and 1100 BCE. This might be the first known description of gambling anywhere in the world.

As time went on, gambling remained popular in India during the medieval period (from the 8th to the 17th century), through the colonial era (from the 17th century to 1947), and continues to be popular today. This means that people in India have been enjoying and participating in gambling for many centuries, and it's a tradition that has lasted throughout different historical periods.

The three main reasons why people bet in India are:

Amplifies excitement and engagement: Sports betting adds an extra layer of excitement to sports and games. When people place bets, they become more emotionally invested in the outcome, heightening their overall interest and engagement in the event.

Intensifies the experience: Watching a match while simultaneously betting on it makes the whole experience more thrilling. It's like a double dose of anticipation, as the outcome becomes not only important for the team but also for the bettors, creating an intensified and immersive atmosphere.

Showcases skill and knowledge: Sports betting provides a platform for gamblers to showcase their understanding of the game and their ability to predict outcomes. It's a way for individuals to apply their sports knowledge and strategic thinking, turning their passion into a strategic endeavor.

By combining these three aspects, betting in India becomes a way for people to enjoy games more deeply, challenge themselves, and experience the rush of making predictions and seeing if they play out as expected.


The grey area of betting legalization

The legalization of sports betting in the United States has triggered discussions surrounding the role of leagues like the NBA and the MLB, who have sought a 1% "integrity fee" on bets to safeguard fair play. On the other hand, casinos have argued that games would continue regardless of bet numbers. This highlights the need for a balanced approach and a well-defined framework to avoid conflicts.

To ensure fairness and revenue collection, it's essential to establish rules that tax betting companies based on the customer's location, rather than the company's location. This approach prevents offshore bets, like those from Indian customers, from evading state revenue.

Considering the history of match-fixing cases in cricket and the potential threats to integrity, legalizing sports betting could magnify these concerns. To counteract this risk, implementing measures to control player access in the days leading up to matches could be highly effective.

Currently, over 60% of global sports betting occurs in unregulated markets. When international bookmakers engage in Indian betting, it fosters money laundering through illicit means like Hawala and smuggling. These methods not only facilitate financial crimes but also indirectly support illegal activities, including terrorism financing. Legalizing betting could help curb these issues, curbing black money and halting fund flows to illicit groups.

It's evident that regulating sports betting through well-crafted laws is more advantageous than an outright ban. This approach prevents significant financial losses that are neither practical nor desirable. Developing a thoughtful and comprehensive framework is the key to embracing the benefits while addressing potential challenges.


Conclusion

In India's complex world of sports betting, finding the right path forward is like solving a puzzle. Some people want to legalize betting, and point to benefits like more money, jobs, and rules that make sense. Others worry about addiction, cheating, and problems in society. The numbers show that a lot of money is being bet every year, which makes this debate important.

To make things work, we need good rules that make everyone happy. India has a long history of sports betting, showing how much people enjoy the thrill, the excitement, and the chance to show off their knowledge. If we decide to make betting legal, we have to be careful, but it could help stop illegal money and make things fair.

Looking at all of this, the main goal is clear: we need rules that make sports betting safe, fair, and fun for everyone.

Edited by Abu Amjad Khan
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