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Can Fantasy Gaming Normalization Lead to Accept Sports Betting in India?

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It is a well-known fact that India's fantasy sports market has undergone an exponential surge in the last few years. It has given rise to new startup culture, with many companies aspiring to follow the likes of Dream11 - India’s biggest online fantasy sports platform. These entities have received massive funding and signed lucrative sponsorship deals, becoming so popular that even the government has started to notice.

NITI Aayog - government’s think tank - recently released a report highlighting the principles and framework necessary to regulate and govern the country's online fantasy gaming platforms. While this is just a draft, the report has laid down some sound guidelines that may very well be implemented to harmonize fantasy sports at a national level and protect the consumer interests.

In fact, one can also go as far as saying that many of these principles can be applied to the realm of sports betting too. After all, many people believe that online fantasy sports are just facilitating betting with extra steps. Of course, it is much more complicated than that, but it is fair to say that these two worlds are intertwined.

Fantasy Sports Platforms vs Sports Betting - Two Halves of a Whole?

One of the reasons why the popularity of fantasy sports platforms in India have risen dramatically over the years because it is absolutely free to participate. People can sign-up, form their own team, manage the squad, and if need be, join a competition to win a prize, all of this without paying a single rupee. This is a far cry from sports betting, where you need to put up a wager - a bet - to expect a return of any sorts.

Secondly, there is a lot of debate around the legality of online fantasy sports and its possible overlay with gambling. The Indian gambling laws are highly outdated and while online sports betting is considered illegal, it does not explicitly say so in the laws. Furthermore, games of skill are exempted from these laws, making them legal and acceptable. And this is where the problem lies.

Most of the time, the decision is left to the jurisdiction of individual states, who take cues from the Supreme Court.

At the moment, there are no definite guidelines, test, or rules that determine whether a sport can be considered a game of skill or a game of chance. Some debate that fantasy sports require skill to be successful, taking them away from gambling purview. Others say that sports betting can be skilful too, provided you know which markets to target.

For example, within IPL betting, it is possible to make good profits in the long run by following a disciplined, well-planned strategy. If one were to put in the same kind of effort as they do in evaluating and analysing their fantasy sports team, they can carefully handpick smart bets and maximise their chances of winning.

It is also worth mentioning that the market size of sports betting in India is in the order of billion. In contrast, fantasy sports is just starting its journey. Needless to say, the financial benefits of regulating that massive market may very well outweigh any moral dilemmas.

The Way Forward

Should online fantasy sports receive country-wide recognition and get its own self-regulatory governing organisation, this may bring us closer to legalising sports betting. The precedents are likely to remain the same, more or less, which cover various aspects like the formation of an independent grievance redressal mechanism - something that is quite common in the European sports betting markets.

We also get a step closer to curbing the dark side of unregulated betting, which entails money laundering, match-fixing, and tax revenues loss.

After all, people in India are keen on betting - let’s give them what they want but within in a safe, regulated, and trusted environment.