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Gaming

Goa govt to consider shifting offshore casinos to Aguada Bay

Newly appointed Goa Ports and Waste Management Minister Michael Lobo told the vidhan sabha that the state government is not averse to shifting offshore casinos, currently housed in the River Mandovi near Panaji to the Aguada Bay.

Lobo was replying to a cut motion introduced by veteran Congress leader and former Chief Minister Pratapsingh Rane to the demand of grant for ports for government failure to remove the offshore casinos out of the river. 

Rane was supported by BJP MLA from Panaji, Atanasio ‘Babush’ Monserrate, NCP MLA Churchill Alemao, Congress MLA Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco and Leader of Opposition Digambar Kamat, all of whom demanded to know the plan and timelines on removal of offshore casinos from their existing location.

Replying to the cut motions to the demands on Ports, Lobo reportedly said,“The idea of shifting the casino vessel has been mooted by the Panjim MLA and I assure to study the matter and will also take him for a joint survey of the place.”

He added that while he is not averse to the idea of shifting casinos, the sole intention is that casino passengers should not be affected.

Monserrate on the other hand alleged that the state bureaucracy is patronising casinos and that the casino lobby seems to have privatised the jetties owned by the Captain of Ports and Fisheries Department to transport their visitors to the casino vessels in feeder boats.

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has however maintained that he is studying the draft of a new casino policy mooted by his predecessor Manohar Parrikar that would potentially shift the offshore casinos to a designated entertainment zone on land and pave way for the appointment of a Gaming Commissioner to regulate the casino industry.

In reply to legislative queries in the past couple of weeks, Sawant merely stated that the matter is under examination and not given any timelines on deciding a definitive policy that will decide the future of offshore casinos in the state,

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Gaming

Goa MLAs demand reservation for locals in casino jobs, CM says its not legally permissible

Legislators in the Goa assembly discussed reservation for locals in casinos and other industrial units in the state, as per local media reports.

The issue was raised in the house by Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLA Churchill Alemao who demanded 80 per cent job reservation for Goan youths in the casino industry.

Alemao said that the state government should intervene and ensure that Goan youths, who are trained in the field of hospitality and hotel management, get an opportunity to work in the casino industry. He said  despite Goan youth being willing to work in the casinos, majority of workforce employed in casinos are from North Eastern states.

“I can understand that you want the Casino industry as it helps the State’s exchequer earn the revenue. But at the same time, they should provide 80 per cent of employment opportunities to Goans. Our Goan youth are willing and ready to work on casinos but the casino operators are not employing them.” he said. Alemao said that there is no job in this industry that Goans can’t do.

“Our youth are trained well in all those services that are provided in the casinos. If jobs are reserved for locals, it will help in solving the major issue of unemployment to certain extent,” he is said to have stated on the floor of the house.

Panaji MLA Atanasio ‘Babush’ Monserrate supported Alemao and added, “Almost 75 per cent working on casinos are outsiders. The casino operators advertise in national and international papers,” he charged.

Seeking an inquiry into the recruitments in the casinos, Monserrate challenged the govt to prove that even 7 per cent of those employed on casinos are Goans and called on the govt to take immediate action.

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, however while discussing a law introduced by the Andhra Pradesh legislature to reserve 80 per cent employment opportunities in industrial units for residents of the state noted that such a law cannot stand test of the constitution and will be struck down by courts.

He however stated that the state government is in the process of training the youth as per the industry requirement through department of Skill Development.

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Gaming Legal & Regulatory

Ex Goa CM Digambar Kamat corners govt on delay in casino policy

Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant told the legislative assembly today that a new casino policy is under consideration of the government.

Sawant gave the response in reply to a starred question raised by former Goa Chief Minister and current leader of opposition Digambar Kamat. Sawant also replied that the drafting of rules for formation of a Gaming Commission to regulate casinos in the state is also under consideration of the government and will be finalised soon.

He further said that the cabinet had given eight extensions of six months each to offshore casinos to shift away from the River Mandovi after an in-principle decision was taken to remove offshore casinos from their current location in 2015.

On being asked a pointed question about the reasons for non-compliance of the timelines for shifting casinos out of the River Mandovi, previously assured by the state government, the Chief Minister replied that ‘the government has decided to remove casinos from the River Mandovi but till today no alternate feasible site has been finalized’.

Sawant gave a similar reply to Congress MLA Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco’s starred question on offshore casinos in the vidhan sabha today and stated that the riverboats will be shifted out of River Mandovi upon finalization of a feasible alternate site.

The Goa government had earlier given a similar response to Lourenco’s unstarred question in the house last week.

The new Goa chief minister has been non-committal on the issue of bringing a new casino policy, as promised by his predecessor Manohar Parrikar, In an interview to a local media house just after assuming office in March this year, Sawant had said that he would take some time to study the proposed draft of the casino policy and revert with his stand on the issue in some time.

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Gaming Legal & Regulatory

Goa CM says casino policy and gaming commission still under examination, no timelines given for notification

Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, in a written response given to the legislative assembly today stated that the issue of bringing out a casino policy for Goa and appointment of a Gaming Commission to oversee offshore and onshore casinos is ‘under examination.’

Sawant stated this in a written reply to an unstarred question raised by Congress MLA Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco, who sought to know why the contours of the casino policy, which had being announced by then Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar in the legislative assembly last year, with an assurance formally announcing the detailed document by the end of August 2018 has not being released till date.

Lourenco also sought to know the status of appointment of a Gaming Commission, that Parrikar had stated would be announced by December 2018, and also sought to know the reasons for the delay in the implementation of the assurance.

Sawant did not give any specific reply to Lourenco’s query on the time frame by which the casino policy and gaming commission will be notified, and the reasons for the delay in the announcement.

In two separate responses to starred questions raised by BJP MLA Nilkanth Halarnkar, Sawant stated that six licenses have been given to offshore casinos and eight licenses have been currently issued to onshore casinos.

He stated that no cases of violation of any casino license term or condition have been reported to the government so far.

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Gaming

New Panaji MLA meets Goa CM, gets assurance on offshore casino relocation

Newly elected Congress MLA from the Panaji constituency, Atanasio ‘Babush’ Monserrate met Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant yesterday to discuss relocation of offshore casinos from the River Mandovi.

According to news reports, Monserrate stated that Sawant had given him an assurance to move the casinos out of River Mandovi but added that the process may take some time.

“We discussed the casino issue, and Sawant said that he would hold a meeting and sort out the issue. He said it would take a bit of time but talks that talks have started (to remove the casinos from the Mandovi)”, Monserrate is quoted to have told The Times of India after his meeting with the Chief Minister.

Monserrate added that an amendment will be required to be brought to the existing legislation to facilitate the shifting of offshore casinos, stating that such an amendment is likely to be introduced in the legislative assembly during the monsoon session of the house.

The issue of offshore casinos being docked in the River Mandovi generated heated discussion during the Panaji by-elections, which were necessitated due to the death of former Chief Minister and sitting Panaji MLA, Manohar Parrikar.

Monserrate had promised to remove offshore casinos from Mandovi within 100 days of taking oath as MLA, during his campaign.

Former Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar had announced on the floor of the legislative assembly last year that offshore casinos would be shifted to a designated area on land within a fixed time span, along with other measures to regulate the casino industry, including appointment of a Gaming Commissioner.

Parrikar’s proposal has not materialised for the past one year and the issue of shifting offshore casinos has been in a limbo ever since the former Chief Minister’s prolonged illness and subsequent demise.

Read more about the offline and online betting and gaming in India.

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Gaming Legal & Regulatory

AIGF writes to BJP and Congress urging inclusion of online gaming regulation in party manifestos

The All India Gaming Federation (AIGF) has written to the manifesto committees of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the principal opposition party, the Indian National Congress, suggesting inclusion legalisation and regulation of online gaming and sports betting as one of the promises in their party manifestos, that will be released for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections starting next month.

AIGF in its suggestion has noted that the online gaming industry can generate substantial revenues to the exchequer, create jobs, ensure responsible gaming and also curb and eliminate illegal activities like match fixing and money laundering if brought under formal regulation and taxed rationally.

The gaming body also added in its submission to the national political parties that the Law Commission of India in its 276th report had also recommended that regulation of betting and gambling remains the only viable option before the government if a complete ban on the activities cannot be achieved.

Noting that AIGF approached the two major national political parties since both the organisations had invited suggestions from the public on issues that can be included in their party manifestos, Roland Landers, CEO of AIGF stated, “It is commendable that the two main political parties have looked at inclusiveness and suggestions from people across the country in their manifestos. We wanted to highlight this critical issue of regulation in the online gaming industry, that has long been ignored but is the need of the hour and hence have sent our suggestions to the respective committees highlighting the benefits that will accrue to all stakeholders.”

In December last year, senior Congress leader and Lok Sabha MP Dr. Shashi Tharoor introduced a private member’s bill in parliament seeking legalisation and regulation of online sports betting within a licensed framework.  AIGF wants an assurance from Congress and BJP in their manifestos that a similar law be introduced by the central government if their organisation comes to power.

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Legal & Regulatory

Shashi Tharoor’s Bill to regulate online sports gaming deserves consideration by the government

Congress Member of Parliament (MP) Shashi Tharoor introduced a private member’s bill, namely, the Sports (Online Gaming & Prevention of Fraud) Bill, 2018 in the Lok Sabha on 28 December 2018.

The Bill, largely based on the Law Commission of India’s recommendations in its 276th Report, has been introduced with the purpose of dealing with two separate but connected topics that the government has made little attempt to focus on:

(i) penalising match-fixing and manipulation of domestic and international sporting events; and

(ii) creating an over-arching national regulatory and licensing framework for overseeing and permitting online sports gaming in the country, subject to numerous safeguards and guidelines.

The first part of the Bill deals with creating an offence of ‘sports fraud’ which includes manipulation of the result of a domestic or international sporting event in exchange for illegal gratification, disclosure of inside information, misrepresentation of a participant’s age, etc.

The second part of the Bill deals with the creation of a seven-member national-level Online Sports Gaming Commission that is tasked with regulating and licensing all online sports gaming in the country, coordinating with law enforcement agencies to crack down on illegal online sports betting and monitoring suspicious betting patterns with a view to identifying and tracking manipulation of sports games.

Online sports gaming has been defined in the Bill to include prediction on the result of a sporting event and placing a bet on the whole or part of the outcome of a sporting event through a telecommunication device. Importantly, the Online Sports Gaming Commission will be empowered under the proposed legislation to issue rules to impose various restrictions on betting on sports matches to ensure that people are able to engage in sports gaming in a limited manner.

The kind of restrictions that can be imposed by the commission includes limiting access to online sports gaming websites to people of certain age groups like minors, the fees to be charged for betting, restriction on giving credit facilities for betting, etc. The Bill also makes a provision empowering the central government to allow, by notification, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) including foreign technological collaboration in licensed Online Sports Gaming websites. Both the portions of the proposed legislation, the first one attempting to curb the menace of cheating in sport and the second one to regulate and control online sports betting in the country try to fix important lacunae in the law. The issue of bringing a strong law to criminalise match-fixing has been put on the back-burner by the current government.

The UPA government, in 2013, tried to draft legislation to prevent sporting fraud, which however could not make progress due to inter alia, the parliamentary logjam prevailing during the period. Without a specific law dealing with sporting fraud, it is almost impossible to punish sportspersons and others involved in IPL type spot-fixing and cheating scandals. Under the current laws, the provisions that the law enforcement authorities invoke against erring sportspersons and other persons involved in fixing syndicates is cheating under the Indian Penal Code and charges under some state organised crime legislation like Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA).

However, it is plausible to argue that the definition of cheating under IPC does not envisage the offence of manipulation of sporting events. Indeed, the same line of argument was noted by Patiala court judge Neena Krishna Bansal in 2015, while discharging cricketers S. Sreesanth and bookmakers accused of fixing IPL matches. Till date, no sportsperson has ever been convicted of fixing or cheating due to the absence of any specific law on the subject. The only punitive action that can be enforced against erring sportspersons is by the sporting association – that of banning that particular person from participating in competitive sports.

Even that action can be scrutinized and challenged in court and can be overturned on procedural and other grounds, as was successfully done by former Indian cricket captain Mohammad Azharuddin. Consequently, there is no effective deterrent today to prevent cricketers and other sportspersons from brazenly indulging in match manipulation. The attempt to bring strong punitive action against those indulging in fixing is thus a welcome attempt to address the lacunae in present laws. Similarly, the attempt to regulate online sports betting at a federal is a welcome step for a variety of reasons. First, whilst betting and gambling is a state subject under the Constitution, it may be impossible for individual states to regulate activity on the internet, where state and national boundaries often get blurred.

Therefore, it would be best for online sports betting to be regulated by an independent body under a Central law, where operators can be licensed under a specific and stringent set of guidelines, which include placing betting limits, restriction on betting/gambling advertisements, restriction on minors from accessing betting websites etc. Regulation of online sports betting under a central law, while leaving physical forms of betting and gambling for states to legislate is a constitutionally tenable proposition.

Central legislation on online sports betting, while leaving out other forms of gambling, including offline gambling, as proposed by Tharoor, can be done by invoking the parliament’s jurisdiction to legislate on telecommunication and inter-state trade and commerce. Secondly, permitting regulated online sports betting under oversight from a regulatory body makes it possible to monitor betting trends, including suspicious trends. For instance, if there has been heavy betting on a particular improbable outcome in a game, and if that improbable outcome materialises, it may be possible to trace and investigate the source of the bet and check whether the bettor had any inside information or connections with any sportsperson or support staff.

Thirdly, the laws penalising sports betting, particularly online sports betting are not clear. Most state gaming legislation are governed by archaic Gaming Acts that neither envisages online gambling or betting. Further, games of skill are exempted from the definition of gambling and betting (in most states), and a 1996 Supreme Court judgment stated that horse racing, being a game of skill, betting or wagering on it cannot be a criminal offence.

A similar analogy can be drawn to betting on cricket or other sports, which are also games of skill. Indeed, such observations have been made by the district judge in the Sreesanth case mentioned above, while noting that betting on cricket, being a game of skill does not amount to any offence. Thus, when an activity like sports betting continues unabated and no strong punitive action is possible, it would be worthwhile to legalise and tax the activity and allow the state to earn revenues, rather than leaving the business in the hands of underworld syndicates who are known to launder and channelise profits from cricket betting to other nefarious criminal and terror-related activities.

Studies suggest that the size of the sports betting market in India is anywhere between US$60-130 billion. Even by conservative estimates, at least Rs. 15,000-20,000 crores can be earned by the government by way of taxes. Allowing the sports gaming industry to be carried out in a streamlined manner also opens up avenues for employment and technological innovation. While all the issues of match-fixing and sports betting are worth legislating upon, it is well known that private member’s bill rarely get discussed extensively and it is even rarer for such bills to pass in both houses of parliament.

Tharoor therefore in a series of tweets put out after introducing the Bill, noted that his aim was to put the legislation out in the public domain for discussion and that it was incumbent upon the government to facilitate their enactment. One hopes that the government takes note of Tharoor’s plea and moves in the direction of introducing legislation to prevent match-fixing and regulating sports betting.

Note: The article was first published in The Statesman on 10th January, 2019 and is available here.

Categories
Legal & Regulatory

Shashi Tharoor introduces Sports (Online Gaming & Prevention of Fraud) Bill; read the salient features of the proposed law

As scheduled, senior Congress MP Dr. Shashi Tharoor introduced the Sports (Online Gaming & Prevention of Fraud) Bill, 2018 in the Lok Sabha yesterday.

The Bill, aimed to establish an effective regime for maintaining the integrity of sports and regulation of online sports gaming, deals with two separate but connected issues: (i) penalising match-fixing and manipulation of domestic and international sporting events; and (ii) creating an over-arching national regulatory and licensing framework for overseeing and permitting online sports gaming in the country, subject to numerous safeguards and guidelines.

The first part of the Bill deals with creating an offence of ‘sports fraud’ which includes manipulation of the result of a domestic or international sporting event in exchange of an illegal gratification, disclosure of inside information, misrepresentation of a sports participants age etc.

The second part of the Bill deals with the creation of a seven-member national-level Online Sports Gaming Commission that is tasked with regulating and licensing all online sports gaming in the country, coordinating with law enforcement agencies to crackdown on illegal online sports betting and monitoring suspicious betting patterns with a view to identifying and tracking manipulation of sports games.

Online sports gaming has been defined in the Bill to include prediction on the result of a sporting event and placing a bet on the whole or part of the outcome of a sporting event through a telecommunication device.

Importantly, the Online Sports Gaming Commission is empowered under the proposed legislation to issue rules to impose various restrictions on betting on sports matches to ensure that people are able to engage in sports gaming in a limited manner.

The kind of restrictions that can be imposed by the commission include limiting access to online sports gaming websites to people of certain age groups like minors, the fees to be charged for betting, restriction on giving credit facilities for betting etc.

The Bill also makes a provision empowering the central government to allow, by notification, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) including foreign technological collaboration in licensed Online Sports Gaming websites.

As expounded by Dr. Tharoor on social networking website Twitter, the Bill (along with three other Bills introduced by him yesterday) are ‘an attempt to expand our freedoms’ and can become a law only if the government of the day agrees to facilitate their enactment in Parliament. Dr. Tharoor, therefore urged the cooperation of the government and Lok Sabha in allowing passage of the Bill introduced by him.

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Legal & Regulatory

Shashi Tharoor to introduce new Bill in Lok Sabha to regulate sports betting, penalise match-fixing

Exclusive Thiruvananthapuram MP and senior Congress leader Dr. Shashi Tharoor is going to introduce a Private Member’s Bill to regulate sports betting and penalise match-fixing in the lower house of parliament later today, as per the revised list of business issued by the Lok Sabha secretariat.

The Bill, titled the Sports (Online Gaming and Prevention of Fraud) Bill, 2018 is aimed to introduce an effective regime to maintain the integrity of sports in India by preventing and penalising sports fraud and for regulation of online sports gaming, as per the Lok Sabha’s agenda.

The private member’s bill is expected to focus on defining and creating a new offence of sports fraud that will prevent manipulation of sports matches. The Bill may also establish a national level regulatory framework to license and regulate online sports betting with certain restrictions and guidelines.

The Law Commission in its 276th Report titled ‘Legal Framework: Gambling and Sports Betting including in Cricket in India’ submitted to the government in July this year had recommended that match-fixing and sporting fraud should be made a criminal offence with stringent penalties. The law panel had also noted that if betting and gambling cannot be effectively banned, then parliament or state legislatures should consider legalising it under a strict regulatory framework and subject to several guidelines.

Subject to smooth functioning of the Lok Sabha today, Dr. Tharoor’s Bill is scheduled to come up for introduction and a brief speech. The reaction of parliamentarians from various parties, particularly of the treasury benches would be interesting to see, especially since the legislation deals with something that was recommended by the Law Commission of India.

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Gaming Legal & Regulatory

Congress, CPI lambast move to legalise betting; Law Commission forced to clarify

India’s leading opposition party, the Congress party, targeted the Narendra Modi-led central government for focusing on legalising gambling and betting when the economy is in distress.

Commenting on the Law Commission’s recommendation to consider regulation of gambling and betting, Congress spokesperson and former union minister, Manish Tewari said in a press conference that the move will have a negative impact on the socio-economic condition of the country.

He noted,  “If you legalise betting on sports, not only will you destroy sports, but turn every ‘paan (betel leaf) shop’ of this country into a ‘juye ka adda’ (gambling den).”

He further stated, “The reason why most of the Indian states do not have lottery or the fact that lottery is banned, is because of the extremely negative social implications of gambling.”

Similarly, Communist Party of India (CPI) General Secretary S. Sudhakar Reddy also opposed the legalisation of betting and gambling and stated that legalisation of betting and gambling would create a lot of problems and leave room for cheating.

He however added that the issue is yet to be officially discussed within his party.

He further commented, “If betting and gambling are legalised, it will create lots of problems. My initial reaction is negative about it.”

In the meanwhile, the Law Commission of India issued a clarification on the report submitted to the central government. In a u-turn of sorts, the Commission clarified that legalising betting and gambling is not desirable at present and the suggestion to regulate gambling/betting should be considered by the parliament or state legislatures in future, only if a complete ban is not effective.

The commission in a clarificatory press note stated: “Vide para 9.7 of the Report on page 115, it has been strongly and categorically recommended that legalising  betting and gambling in the present scenario is not desirable and a complete ban on unlawful betting and gambling must be ensured. Again, vide para 9.8, it has been recommended that effective regulation remains the only viable option to control gambling, if it is not possible to enforce a complete ban in order to prevent unlawful activities and the Commission has recommended a number of guidelines and safeguards, in the event the Parliament or the State Legislatures decide to regulate these activities.” (original emphasis of the Law Commission)