A cursory search on the internet using a phrase like ‘gambling in India’ paints a mixed picture as to the current legal status of the industry in the country. Although the Indian gambling market is estimated to be worth US$60 billion per year, around half of this is said to be illegally bet. Widely different takes on the reach of the law and the fast developing world of online gambling both contribute to the confusion surrounding the legality of certain gambling activities. Here is an overview of gambling in India which will hopefully help those who remain slightly perplexed.
Gambling across India as a whole is very restricted - only lotteries and horse racing enjoy full-blown legality, although two states (Goa and Sikkim) operate more relaxed policies and allow casino gambling in their regions, with a dozen casinos operating in Goa alone.
For much of the early 21st century, online gambling managed to avoid Indian regulation almost entirely as there was nothing in state legislature that deemed the activity to be illegal; although the Information Technology Act 2000 prohibits publication of information online that can ‘corrupt’ people (which includes online gambling information), there is no law specifically stopping Indian gamblers from betting over the internet.
The Federal Information Technology Act, which was passed in 2011, was also intended to restrict online gambling activities in India by holding internet service providers accountable for ensuring that foreign betting sites are blocked. However, this law doesn’t prohibit Indian residents from accessing the services of such online betting operators, meaning that Indians can freely make use of bookmakers like William Hill, Ladbrokes and Bet365, who either openly accept rupees as a currency or offer alternative e-wallet deposit options such as Skrill and Neteller.
Thanks to it being entirely legal, betting on local horse races is one of the most popular forms of gambling in India, along with state lotteries. For the moment, Indian gamblers can only bet on local races at the track itself, but overseas races can be bet on at foreign online bookmaker sites.
Although no sport has ever been officially declared as the country’s national sport, many people simply assumed that it was field hockey, at least until the Government of India explicitly denied this. This denial may have something to do with the rapid decline of hockey in the country; from being eight-time Olympic gold medal winners, and champions of the first-ever Hockey World Cup in 1975, Indian hockey has gone from bad to worse, with the men's team coming bottom of their pool at the 2012 Olympic Games.
In contrast, the popularity of cricket in the country just keeps on growing, amongst gamblers as well as fans. Indeed, the advent of the Indian Premier League has only added to the appeal of the sport, with many people even resorting to taking and placing bets on the IPL in illegal, land-based bookmakers across India.
If a country’s national sport were based on its popularity alone, then cricket would be India’s by quite some way. With a long history dating back to the formative days of the British Empire, cricket is today seen as part of India's national identity. Understandably then, cricket betting is very popular with gamblers across the country.
Interest in betting on cricket is always heightened during international tournaments (whether it’s the Cricket World Cup or another ICC competition) and particularly in games against long-term rivals Pakistan. The IPL, which runs from April to the end of May, also sees a lot of money wagered, both internationally and in India.
However, as mentioned above, land-based sports betting in India is highly restricted, so residents typically turn to overseas sites like Paddy Power (which offers frequent IPL betting promotions) to access cricket betting markets, in order to stay free from prosecution for using illegal land bookmakers.
India’s gambling industry has generated a lot of outsider interest, over the last half a decade in particular, with companies such as William Hill and Ladbrokes keen to win coveted gambling licences being offered by the state of Sikkim. Although to date this is the only Indian state to offer gambling licences, it is hoped by many that Sikkim will serve as a precursor to an eventual shift towards a more relaxed attitude across the country - a move which would open up the existing, lucrative market and make betting easier for established fans of gambling in India.