Puducherry on path to Legalise Casinos but LG expresses Opposition

The Union Territory of Puducherry may be on the path to legalise and permit casinos in the region after three years of dithering and deliberations.

As per media reports, although the elected government headed by Chief Minister V Narayanasamy has almost made up its mind to allow casinos in the state for the purpose of promoting tourism, Lieutenant Governor (LG) Kiran Bedi has raised objections to the proposal saying that the government should keep the ‘wolf of gambling’ away from a spiritual and pristine Puducherry.

Bedi also stated that allowing casinos will impact the quality of domestic and international tourists besides causing social problems.

Narayanasamy however claimed that Bedi does not have any authority to decide on whether casinos should be allowed in the territory and added that various locations like Goa, Sikkim, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore have casinos to attract tourists.

He added that the LG is working with a revengeful attitude and that Puducherry is in severe need of funds and permission to allow lotteries, casinos and breweries would bolster the state exchequer.

The Chief Minister however noted that the legislative assembly will take a final decision on whether casinos and breweries will be allowed in the state or not.

Notably, the Puducherry government has been toying with the idea of allowing casinos within its territory since 2016. Narayansamy had indicated in July 2016 after assuming charge as CM that he was open to allowing offshore casinos in the UT for promoting tourism, on the lines of Goa.

State Health & Tourism Minister Malladi Krishna Rao had also stated that the cabinet had discussed the issue and was looking at permitting casinos in Puducherry, Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam.  A delegation of government officials from Puducherry had also proposed an official study tour to Goa to evaluate the model of allowing casinos.

Besides casinos, the Puducherry government is also likely to look at restarting sale of state lotteries within and outside the UT to augment revenues.


Sri Lankan government partially rolls back $50 casino entry fee; announces ban on cricket betting outlets

The Sri Lankan government has clarified in parliament that the proposed US$50 entry fee on players wishing to play in casinos would only apply to local residents.

Last month, the country’s finance minister Mangala Samaraweera had announced a 5o dollar entry fee on guests wishing to play in casinos as well as drastic hikes in annual license fees from 200 million Sri Lankan rupees (around US$1.1 million) to 400 million Sri Lankan rupees (US$2.2 million). Samaraweera had also announced a 15% turnover tax on the revenues of the casinos, effective 1st April, 2019.

However the finance minister clarified yesterday that the $50 entry fee would only be applicable on local players and not on foreigners, as the objective of the proposed fee is to discourage local persons from gambling.

He further added that a framework for regulating gambling would be taken up soon by the current government as regulation of gambling was also a pre-requisite under the anti-money laundering laws of the nation.

Samaraweera also announced that cricket betting, which is operated by two private companies in the island nation would not be allowed in the future. He stated that this decision was taken after a request by current Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation and former Sri Lankan cricket captain Arjuna Ranatunga.

Currently, cricket and horse race betting is operated in shops and kiosks in the country, although the position on legality of running these activities is not fully clear.


Sri Lanka drastically hikes casino license fee and taxes; introduces $50 entry fee

The Sri Lankan government has announced a drastic increase in annual license fees and taxes for casinos. The announcement of the steep hike was made by the country’s finance minister Mangala Samaraweera in the annual budget presented in parliament earlier this week.

As per the announcement, the annual license fees for casinos is hiked from 200 million Sri Lankan rupees (around US$1.1 million) to 400 million Sri Lankan rupees (US$2.2 million).

Apart from this, the government also announced that they will levying an entry fee of US$50 per guest wishing to enter the casino, with effect from 1st June, 2019.  Samaraweera justified the introduction of the entry fee by claiming that the fee is less than the US$100 entry fee charged by the Singapore government.

Furthermore, the central government in Sri Lanka has also announced that they would be levying a 15% turnover tax on the revenues of the casinos, with effect from 1st April, 2019.

The Sri Lankan government had announced similar harsh measures against casinos, including increase in the annual license fees in 2015, which were never fully implemented. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has in the past stated that he will discourage casinos and disallow new casino projects.

Currently, Sri Lanka has three existing casinos in Colombo. International casino companies like Crown Resorts, Las Vegas Sands, MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment have in the past evinced interest in starting integrated casino resorts in the island nation, but the proposals have met with stiff resistance from political and social groups.

Gaming Poker

Feature: Poker veteran Jim Ramm talks about the evolution of poker in India, Jims Poker Room and future of gaming in India

For those who have tracked the poker and gaming industry in India, the name Jim Ramm needs no introduction. One of the early movers in the poker industry in India, Jim has been associated with almost all casinos in Goa at some points of time and is now running a poker room in Colombo’s Marina casino.

In this exclusive conversation, he talks about a wide range of issues including how he got associated with poker, his attempts to venture into online poker, the need for responsible gaming and a proper regulatory framework and much more.

Full interview:

Q. You are one of the senior-most persons in the poker industry in the Indian sub-continent and in a way, one of the pioneers of poker in India. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got acquainted with the game of poker and why you decided to start a poker venture in India?

Jim Ramm (Jim): In the early 2000’s I was based in the Caribbean islands in the jewelry trade and started playing poker then with friends at house games. Aruba, St. Kitts & Nevis and then South Carolina in the United States. I was present at the 2004 & 2005 WPT tours in Aruba and that got me more into poker. I was lucky to meet up with some of the big guys then. I even sold some jewelry pieces to them and their family!

In mid-2008 I returned to India for my USA residence visa renewal formalities, which took a little longer than I expected, actually only a month more, but this waiting period got me looking for a game of poker. I found that Goa was the only state in India which had casinos so I headed there for a short poker vacation. But there was no game there either. This is when I got the idea to start a poker league as I believed that this game would surely fit in with our Indian lifestyle and one day would become a popular house game like rummy.

Thus came into being India Poker Ranking Tour (IPRT) the very first Indian Poker League.

(I did get my USA visa soon after this but never used it. I stayed back in India).

Q. You brought both cash games and tournaments in Goa in 2008 by starting a poker room in Casino Pride (and later in other casinos). Tell us about your experience of running a poker room and poker events in Goa? How do you think the poker scenario has evolved over the last few years?

Jim: From the very beginning I decided to work only at legal and licensed venues and thus approached a couple of Goa casinos with my idea of holding tournaments and cash events at their casino ships. Casino Royale (now Deltin JAQK) and Casino Pride (now Casino Pride 1) were the two casinos I approached with my proposal. Mr. Narinder Punj, grand-father of Indian gaming industry, who was then heading Casino Royale and Casino Caravela, showed keen interest in this new idea.

Casino Pride guided me to Mr. Phil Sanders who had just entered into negotiations for starting a poker room at their casino. After meeting Mr. Phil I felt we shared many common ideas and decided to join him at Casino Pride. The cash tables became operational on 15th August that year but it was the first IPRT tournament, held soon thereafter, which got us traction with the cash tables. In less than a year after that Mr. Phil decided to move to Casino Royale. I stayed back at Casino Pride as the poker room operator.

Those early days were tough as there was no data base of existing poker players available and we did not have Whatsapp, or Facebook to connect with players. Communication was via SMS’ on Nokia & Samsung first generation monochrome 1.5 inch screen mobile phones and also via emails.

I got on to the task of creating a data base from across the country which I considered to be most vital. The idea was to assemble poker players under one IPRT branded umbrella. The task was more daunting due to the fear in interpreting the ambiguities of the Indian gambling laws. Invitation to a casino could have been a violation of the law. It was indeed frightening then as there was no set precedent for me to follow. I started inviting players for IPRT tournaments and created a data base discreetly and steadily.

IPRT tourneys were being held regularly and so were the cash tables running. But those were different days. For most of the players it was the first experience at a casino with dealers dealing for them. Their nervousness was clearly visible on the tables and so was their excitement. Rs 10000 (approx. USD 200 those days) buyin tables with Rs.100/200 blinds was a big thing!

After a lot of trial and error we set the basic norms which are followed even today like the 5% rake and the Rs 5000 cap; the tournament structures suitable for our local players were modified and established with the help of Mr. Craig; the attractive free hotel stay and flight reimbursement promotions were introduced; the minimum number of play hours required to qualify for the freebies were established; bad beat jackpot was introduced first time by us; basic training programs for dealers was created; things like that.

In Goa I ran poker rooms at Casino Pride, Casino Carnival and Casino Caravela between 2009 and 2013.

There has been quite a shift in overall gaming in the last decade, primarily brought about by advancing technology. The demographics of our customers have also changed. The players are younger on average. I believe that the future of the casino industry is in slots & e-machines. For poker and other card games, it is in online platforms. As today’s customers were raised on electronic games, therefore, the real future innovations in gaming are going to primarily happen in the electronic versions. Even the payment models will slowly shift dominantly from fiat moneys to crypto currencies.

Poker as a game has indeed come a long way in India since those early days. IPRT was the first Indian platform to bring organized poker in brick and mortar format to the un-exposed Indian market and that will remain as a historical fact forever. However, the online poker platform Adda52 was the catalyst, the first booster for the poker popularity wagon in India, though there will be many who may argue it was Zynga Poker.

Now, with Delta Corp taking the lead by acquiring Adda52 and promoting Poker Sports League, the most exciting and credible league format in India, I feel this will be the second booster. With PSL, under the lead of Mr. Manoj Jain (Vice President of Delta Corp and head of operations of Deltin Royale) and my new visionary friend and fellow poker passionista Mr Manish Adnani of Deltin Royale, I see a tremendous growth in the industry in the next five years.

Other players in the industry like Mr. Anuj Gupta, Mr. Amit Burman, Mr. Pranav Bagai, Mr. Amin Rozani, Mr. Vinod Manoharan, Mr. Manoj Jain (Pokabunga), Mr. Madhav Gupta, Mr. Rajeev Kanjani and Mr. Navkiran Singh amongst others, have done and are continuing to do a great job.

However, credit should also go to the people working behind the scenes, who have been the back-bone of the Indian poker industry since the very beginning. Mr. Rajendra Chandrachud of Salus Technologies is one such individual who has dedicatedly devoted over a decade developing gaming software in India, including poker and rummy, and continues to service Indian and International markets on his robust platform. Mr. Rajat Agarwal and Mr. Aditya Agarwal of PokerGuru did magic for the poker industry at the right time in our country, and you, Mr. Jay Sayta have done great service to the whole gaming industry through your Glaws platform.

Q. After successfully running poker in Goa, you were planning to start something in online poker in 2011 and you were one of the initial few people who thought about starting an online poker website in India. Can you throw some light on your foray into online poker and why it did not work out?

Jim: One fine day, I think it was in 2010, I got a call from a young and dynamic lawyer, Mr. Vaibhav Gaggar from Delhi, who convinced me that we could operate an online poker platform legally in India. He visited me in Goa soon after that phone call and the very first hand-shake established a bond between us. He greatly impressed me with his enthusiasm and energy right away. Thereafter, I traveled a dozen times to Delhi for meetings to develop our future course of action. With Mr. Vaibhav’s legal expertise and my gaming background combining forces, we set up a plan of action and got about approaching investors, banks for online payment gateways, finding software developers and putting other operational and marketing strategies in place. As we had already identified the most crucial aspect for online poker’s success to be an online payment gateway solution, we worked arduously on this, though without much success.

At this point we requested Mr. Gaurav Gaggar, brother of Vaibhav having a distinct banking and finance background, to join our team. His expertise was greatly needed to get a break-thru in convincing banks for this much needed crucial online payment gateway solution in some format or another. Poker as a card game was unknown to most of the bankers we approached and they simply categorized it as any other gambling game, making it a taboo subject for them to even talk about.

In midst of these time-consuming challenges and our pre-occupations this project got simmering in the back-burner with lesser communication between us partners.  In one later meeting in Delhi I was informed that Mr. Vaibhav had decided to consult and work with another group on this online poker project. Thus, Adda52 was born. Something great did really come out of our joint pioneering efforts!

Q. For the past few years, you have been based in Colombo, first running a poker room in Bellagio casino and now operating the Jims Poker Room and teenpatti games in Marina casino. How is the gaming scenario in Sri Lanka and how is it different from India?

Jim: I started Jims Poker Room at Bellagio Casino, Colombo, Sri Lanka in 2010. It was also the first official legal poker venue of Sri Lanka. The pool of local players was very small and there was a cultural stigma attached for locals to be seen at casinos. We also faced a challenge to get trained English speaking staff those days. We depended mostly on expat staff and overseas players to run daily cash tables, which was an expensive business model. Another great challenge was to convince overseas guests that Sri Lanka was now a very safe place to visit, after decades of internal rife.

A great amount of joint marketing efforts went in by Casino Bellagio Colombo and Jims Poker Room to bring Sri Lanka forward as a gaming destination in the eyes of the Indian players. Most of the Indian players I invited did not even know that there were casinos existing in Sri Lanka!

I started Jims Poker Room in Casino Marina Colombo in early 2015 and have been operating poker cash games, handling the flush/teenpatti groups for Casino Marina and providing services as a junket agent to overseas players till today.

Gaming in the Indian sub-continent is quite similar to each other. Some differences are the Sri Lankan casinos being stand-alone casinos compared to Goa’s off-shore and Nepal’s hotel integrated casinos. All three countries offer the same table games, same services like free FnB, hotel stay and flight reimbursements to invitee or package guests. The betting limits at gaming tables differ a little and so do the agent commissions vary. Sri Lanka offers the best promotional packages for players and the highest agent commissions in our region.

Another distinct difference for Sri Lanka is that it has a large local Chinese community and a lot of overseas guests from the Middle-East, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Maldives as their client base. Unlike Nepal, Sri Lankan citizens are free to play at local casinos.

Q. With the legal situation limiting casinos to only two states, Goa and Sikkim, and indications that this might not change in the near future, do you see a lot of Indian players turning to other nearby destinations like Nepal and Sri Lanka for gaming? Do you feel there are more opportunities in gaming outside India than within India?

Jim: I would like to believe that India is going to remain to be the best gaming location for Indian punters. Yes, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Macau, Cambodia, Philippines, Malaysia and even as far away as Australia, UK, USA, Cyprus, Georgia and other CIS countries may attract some of the mostly upper-middle and high rollers from India, yet the comparative percentage will be negligible.

Bulk spending will be done in Indian casinos and then maybe Nepal & Sri Lanka will be the next level benefactors. This is because of convenience in logistics, money handling, personalized services and also unbelievingly, because many Indian players do not possess passports to travel out of the country and many of them who do, avoid getting immigration stamps on their passports because of personal reasons. Nepal is preferred by Indian customers over Sri Lanka for this precise reason, as they can visit Nepal without a passport.

There is no doubt that Sri Lankan casinos offer better promotions for middle and upper-middle bracket players and much higher commissions for casino agents. Sri Lanka & Nepal offer other attractions and entertainment options which might not easily be available in Goa or Sikkim.

If ‘What happens in Goa stays in Goa’, then, ‘What happens in Colombo or Kathmandu never happened!’ I guess this works better for many players.

Nonetheless, because Goa is an easily accessible destination for the Indian mass market including the lower-middle and the middle bracket players, it will remain to be the most vibrant gaming market as far as Indian audience is concerned for a long time to come. These segments have the potential to service the bottom-line of any casino. The high rollers and whales will continue to provide the icing and cherry on the P&L of Goa casinos, as usual.

Additionally, with Goa government now planning a tourist hub near Mopa and with plans to move all the casinos there in the next 5 to 10 years, I am sure we will see an emergence of huge integrated complexes with hotels, casinos, entertainment centers, sporting arenas, restaurants, malls and theme parks coming up which will enhance the growth of the gaming industry and exponentially sky-rocket their topline. Nothing can stop this growth from happening (which comes with a rider and that is), if the government and casino operators get it right and do it right!

Q. Jims Poker Room has become a recognisable brand in India with your aggressive branding and promotional activities. Any plans of expanding beyond Sri Lanka and starting similar ventures in India or other countries?

Jim: Jims Poker Room has been in existence in our Indian sub-continent for about a decade now. It is slowly getting recognized in the gaming and poker communities of India, Sri Lanka, UAE, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Philippines and Nepal and we have seen a positive growth over the period of many years. Yes, we may now be in the process of expansion and we may have an announcement to make very soon about an exciting certain Poker Yatra!

I have realized that seasoned poker players like to travel to different places to get a chance to play with new faces and many of them like to club together the tourism part of it. My future endeavour is to have multiple-locations if possible in different countries and to cross-pollinate our large player base between these different locations, thus keeping each venue vibrant, providing fresh audience to our poker patrons and at the same time making each location a self-sustaining and profitable center.

If we succeed in doing this then probably it will be a first again, having multiple brick and mortar poker venues in different countries under the same brand. I am praying and working hard to pull this first-off again!

Q. Live poker, online poker and poker leagues have all grown exponentially in India over the past few years. However, there isn’t much that poker operators do to prevent addiction and problem gaming. Do you think more should be done to promote responsible gaming?

Jim: Absolutely one of my major concerns. I wish we operators, including casino operators, do attend to this aspect vehemently and if required then, do it unilaterally without impositions from the government. Because of no formal gaming regulations in our region and because we are not obliged by law to comply, we are overlooking this major and critical dimension of the gaming business.

I guess we are all overwhelmed by the liberty and ease of running a gambling business, without much pre-requisites or post-operational regulations and therefore we continue maintaining a blind-eye. If not attended to soon, it is going to play “catch-up” with us and become the Achilles heel.

If we were to think in terms of the long run topline of the whole industry, then realistically we need to protect our customer base. Gambling, whether it is baccarat, roulette, blackjack or other casino games; card games; horse racing; lottery; sports betting; are all addictive. In excess, it has the potential to destroy peoples’ lives, change life styles and affect the social fabric of families and even local societies as a whole, because honestly gambling does attract certain non-ethical elements and incidental businesses around it. This is bound to give rise to rightful resistance from the social and moral guardians and welfare groups if not from the governments directly. It is our moral duty and obligation to educate and remind gamblers regularly that they should only risk gambling within their means and not make gambling a means of a livelihood.

Many players say that they are entertainment gamblers but I don’t agree with the premise or the concept that gambling is entertainment.  Entertainment should be fun but the only part that’s fun about gambling is when you win. Anything other than that outcome will make any “hard-core or not” gamer writhe in pain. The name of the game is “win” and this is the most difficult part of gambling.

Like I always say, “Losing is the rule and winning is an exception!”

I believe this holds good in gambling, as it does in every aspect of life.

The general public doesn’t understand the strength of gambling or gaming, call it what you may, whether it be on an online or live card game, a slot machine, black jack, baccarat, rummy, or the race course. Gambling is the only industry that I am aware of in the world where the player really has virtually no chance, and the only industry in the world where to start-up, the pre-requisite is only a license (in Indian online poker and rummy businesses we don’t even require a license). I will not give in to the argument that funding is also another criteria to start a gambling enterprise, simply because there is unlimited supply of money in India.

Indians greedily enjoy gambling, whether it be on the IPL, the World Cup, the Indian Derby, the NFL, Formula One, Pro Kabaddi, PGA, WWE or even on today’s onion prices. I think television and other media have created a tremendous amount of interest inadvertently in gambling by promoting so called entertainment sports. Smart Phones help facilitate with ease illegal betting apps, which have no age restrictions. You can try your luck with just a flick of your pinkie across any 10th generation extra sensitive touch screen. The word “betting” is now nearly equal to that of a “masala dosa!”

In India, gaming today is no different than going to the movies fifteen years ago.  At that time, gambling at casinos was a no-no for most Indians. The people in the industry, including those who worked in Goa casinos, were looked upon, somewhat, as less-than-ideal citizens. Today it’s perceived as legal. You have the power and the influence of respectable companies including a public listed company like Delta Corp foraying into this sector and that’s the big difference today versus 10 or 15 years ago. Gambling is now regarded as legal and it places an air of respectability. This is precisely why the gambling industry needs to have and maintain an immaculate image.

Presently, you can already see the gambling industry preview as to how people are being lured, legitimately and illegitimately, by magnificent veiled marketing promotions. Gambling is becoming more lucrative and more accessible to all of us and many times under the misleading label of sports. Technology is bringing gambling to our homes in various disguises, garbs, forms and shapes that we could have not imagined 10 years ago.

Yet, no one is informing nor educating the players about the odds, probabilities and risks involved in gambling. No one has established a local counselling center for gambling addicts. No one wants to speak the gospel truth which is that in the long run no one can win in gambling. Not the government and surely not the operators!

I think gambling (online & offline combined) is probably the largest industry in the world, or nearly approaching it and it should not be taken casually. Both, the Indian government and the gambling industry, should push forward with getting regulatory bodies and regulations in place as soon as possible. It will help this industry greatly in our country which factually does create a lot of jobs. It will help the naive players and will also help the image and credibility of the gaming industry. If the local, state and central governments play a bigger role they may recognize the disproportionate taxation on this industry and probably it can be addressed and blessed with a more balanced and structured tax-policy. All this can be done and a lot more. It is clearly in everyone’s best interests to work in a regulated environment. The best time to have done this was 10 years ago and the next best time is now. Better late than never!

The popularity of poker specifically, in the next decade or so in India will be equal to that of rummy today. The burden is on present day poker operators to sensibly steer the direction of the poker industry. A game of poker requires a skillful gambling strategy based on mathematically derived and established probabilities. I think we all should agree that chance plays a major role in any game of poker and that can be easily seen at the variance occurring in any poker session.

This occurs because of the randomness of the cards in play and this we can indisputably tag as “chance or luck”. Yes, in the long run decisions based on “positive expected value” (+EV) will make you a winner. However, in the short run we should not overlook the variance probabilities that can get players ruined!

I would wish for the poker industry leaders to come forward as an association and help maintain the integrity of this wonderful game!

Q. Finally, your parting thoughts on how you see the gaming industry and your brand, Jims Poker Room evolving in the next five years?

Jim: I am really hoping for some much required reforms in our gambling laws and absolutely hoping for central gaming regulatory bodies to formally emerge in our sub-continent. Sadly, none of the countries like India, Sri Lanka and Nepal have any dedicated policing nor regulatory bodies to direct and regulate both the online and the live gaming industry. It is now controlled mostly by the economic and executive branches of government who are driven by different agendas. This does not help the players nor the industry any. I believe the gaming industry should push really hard for regulations to come into being as they are going to benefit most from working in a controlled and secure environment.

I believe, once this happens we will have more people gambling online and in brick & mortar venues simply because they will trust it more. Trust should be the main concern for the gambling industry and I am sure most of us know why. Also the states will earn many-fold more revenue with tax reforms on this industry than present, and will have additional financial resources to put back into the communities and social activities, like education, infra-structure, health and environment. It will also help reduce corruption existing mainly due to the many ambiguities in present gaming laws and the vagrant implementation of them.

I believe that the gaming industry should unify and do what is best for itself and that means setting benchmarks and policy from within itself till such time the governments wake up and do the needful. I’m not sure if I’m qualified to over think, but I fear if the government does not get guidance from within the gambling industry then, sans the expertise, knowledge or understanding of the product in hand, it might over-regulate. Whether or not the government today understands the product and the potential, the operators certainly do. I hope the government does take the views of gaming professionals whenever they go forward in reforming the gambling laws in India.

I also look forward to the gaming industry putting money back into the social sectors such as education, health and environment, if they want gambling to have a healthy future. They should lead in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities, if for nothing else, then at least, because of their nature of business.

At the end of the day, I believe in free-enterprise and free-choice. Legitimate businesses have the right to try to make the most profits and adult customers have the right to decide where to best spend their hard earned moneys. Governments as arbitrators and policemen maintain the right to make sure that all parties get a fair deal and that justice prevails!

Jims Poker Room is a small business and hopefully our regular players and casino partners will support us as they have done so far. I want to thank the whole poker fraternity and our casino venue partners who have always been supportive of our endeavours.

I would especially like to thank Mr. Ravi Wijeratne, (Chairman) of Rank Holdings & Casino Marina International, .Ashok Kheterpal (Chairman) Casino Pride Group, Mr. Baldev Arora (Director) Casino Pride Group, Mr. Hirendra Parera (Director) of Casino Bellagio Colombo, Mr Raghuvir and Mr Xavier (Directors) of Casino Carnival Goa, Mr. Shrinivas Nayak (Director) of Casino Pride Group,  Mr. Romesh Wickramasekera (VP) of Rank Holdings & Casino Marina Colombo, Mr Ruban Dharmarajah (CEO) of Casino Ballys Kathmandu, Mr. Clifford Casinadan (CEO) of Casino Bellagio Colombo, for bestowing their confidence in me.

We have a good team in Jims Group and we have managed to survive and gather a lot of experience in handling poker, flush and casino games over the years. The challenge facing us is our own commitment to service. We believe in providing the best premium services possible to our customers and I have full faith that this will give us our highest rewards.

We hope we will be able to show some great results in the coming few years. We may have a “wild card” surprise for the gaming industry!

Business Gaming

Sri Lanka casinos on verge of shutdown after unreasonable hike in taxes

As predicted by us in January this year, casinos in Sri Lanka are battling for survival after Maithripala Sirisena took over as the country’s President. Sirisena had indicated his moral opposition to the casino industry. The government introduced a one-time special tax of 1 billion Sri Lankan Rupees (around US$7 million) in  the 2016 interim budget.

Additionally, the government also hiked the annual gaming levy to Sri Lankan Rupees 400 million (around US$2.7 million), a 200% hike from the existing levy of Sri Lankan Rupees 200 million in the final budget. On the other hand, the government also granted the casinos a small reprieve by scrapping the US$100 entry fee on visitors to the casinos.

The government has also announced a special 25% income tax on sin industries like tobacco and gaming, in a bid to discourage spurt of casinos and gaming activities. These new measures proposed by the Sri Lankan government spell the death knell for the flourishing gaming industry, say experts. Out of the four operational casinos, one has already downed its shutters due to the unreasonable and commercially unfeasible taxes. The three existing casinos are also seriously contemplating shutting down operations due to the irrational and unbearable taxes, as per local media reports.

Curiously however, the government also announced significant reduction of gaming levy on the popular rujino card game, reducing annual levy on the card game parlours from Sri Lankan Rupees 200 million to 5 million. It is alleged that reduction in levies for the rujino parlours are on account of political patronage enjoyed by many outlet owners.

Closure of casinos in Sri Lanka would result in increased footfalls of casinos in Goa, Sikkim, Macau, Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam as most of the tourists visiting casinos in the island nation are either Indian or Chinese citizens, who prefer to gamble in South or South-East Asian tourist destinations.


New Sri Lankan President vows to disallow casino projects, may make life difficult for existing casinos

In a move that surprised political observers, key opposition leader Maithripala Sirisena who was until recently a member of the ruling coalition defeated incumbent Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa by a convincing majority earlier today. The surprise victory of Sirisena who is described as socially conservative is expected to have implications on the gaming industry in the Asia-Pacific region. One of the key promises of Sirisena’s election manifesto is to disallow casino licenses given to the “Water Front” and “Lake Kere” projects granted under the Strategic Development Projects Act due to reservations raised by Buddhist monks, though interestingly a pro-casino Minister, Faizer Mustapha from the Rajapaksa cabinet joined the Sirisena camp. (Mustapha however promised to abide by the new leader’s position on gambling).

New Sri Lankan President M Sirisena
New Sri Lankan President M Sirisena

Sirisena has also vowed to stop the tax holidays given to the integrated casino-cum-resort projects and has taken a conservative stand against vices prevailing in Sri Lankan society. Australian billionaire James Packer and his Crown Group was expected to invest around US $400 million in an integrated casino resort in the island nation but that project is unlikely to proceed now. Similarly, the two other resorts; a US $650 million project from local conglomerate John Keells Holdings and a US $300 million project by local businessman Dhammika Perera are likely to take a hit due to the change in the political dynamics of the island nation.

It is learnt that the existing Sri Lankan casinos operate by exploiting legal loopholes and do not have a formal casino license, but operate on the basis of a taxation receipt. The Sri Lankan Parliament however has passed the Casino Business (Regulation) Act in December 2010 which enlists conditions to obtain a casino license, but the legislation has not been implemented yet. It is unclear whether Sirisena intends to shut down existing casinos and other gaming operations as well, but given his public statements and moral inclinations, it is definitely clear that he will not make things easy for the casino industry.

Gaming Legal & Regulatory

Sri Lankan casinos advertise in Indian cricket match, face possible criminal liability

In what may be a first attempt by casinos to publicly run an advertisement campaign in India, two Sri Lankan casinos ‘Ballys’ and ‘Marino’ put up banners and hoardings in the Eden Gardens stadium at Kolkata during the ongoing India versus West Indies cricket test series.

As per media reports, this was the first time that any casinos had publicly advertised in cricket matches.  The move has sparked an outcry in the media about such blatant and immoral campaigns by casinos. Some advocates have opined that casino ads may not per se be illegal as the casinos have other entertainment facilities which may be promoted. The matter has become a minor controversy of sorts with Kolkata Police Commissioner SK Purakayastha stating that he would verify the matter before commenting on any action.

While it comes as no surprise that Sri Lankan casinos which have aggressively been targeting Indian tourists (with Australian billionaire James Packer now planning a US $ 400 million resort in the island nation) would attempt to promote their offerings through various medium in India, the ignorance of the police authorities and legal luminaries on gambling advertisements is surprising.

Casino advertisements might be illegal in India
Casino advertisements might be illegal in India

Eminent lawyers have opined that the mere advertisements of casinos would not be illegal as per Indian laws. However,as noted by us earlier, in states like West Bengal, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa and Gujarat there is a specific law against publishing any ‘news or information’ that aids or facilitates gambling.  Apart from this, there are guidelines issued by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) and other rules which prohibit immoral and indecent advertisements across India.

Specifically,  Section 11 of the West Bengal Gambling and Prize Competition Act, 1957 allows the police to arrest without warrant any person who prints, publishes, sells or distributes or in any manner circulates any newspaper, news-sheet or other document or any news or information with the intention of aiding or facilitating gambling.

The punishment for contravention of this Section is imprisonment up to one month and/or fine up to rupees two hundred.  It may be argued that the advertisements by the Sri Lankan casinos would fall foul of this Section due to the broad sweep of prohibition on any kind of information relating to gambling promotion. The dictionary meaning of the term ‘casino’ would also clearly imply that there was invitation to a gaming house which may have other incidental facilities.

Further, the fact that the advertisements were visible on television would also mean that there could be criminal liability in other states as well as action by Information & Broadcasting Ministry and voluntary advertising organisations.

However, the casino advertisers seem to have taken a calculated risk in aggressively marketing their products hoping that the seldom invoked law against gambling advertising would not be used. Even if this Section is invoked, the punishment is minimal and would not deter advertisers. In all probability, it seems that the casinos would be let off with only a reprimand.

Legal & Regulatory

Legal & regulatory severely restricts gambling activities in South Asia- studying the regulatory model of South Asian nations

This post will describe the legal and regulatory environment in South Asian nations as not much is known about the gaming laws regulating wagering activities in countries neighbouring India. An original version of this article was first published on the website Bookmakersreview and is re-posted with prior consent.

India: This website has dealt with most questions concerning gambling laws comprehensively and an introduction on gambling laws can be accessed here. However, the regulatory, political and legal environment governing gambling laws is reiterated here for the benefit of readers.

Most states in India, with the exception of the two small tourist states of Goa and Sikkim, prohibit all forms of gambling. A casino resort has been approved in the Union territory of Daman in western India but it is not functional as of now. Various other states have tried to legalize gambling and betting at various points of times in the past starting with a proposal by the Maharashtra government to legalize gambling and betting in 1976.

Recently, the state of Punjab in Northern India started looking to legalize casinos though the proposal has meet with stiff resistance from religious groups and political parties Though cricket betting and other forms of gambling activities is rampant in India and is considered to be a multi-billion dollar industry, most of it happens illegally and is run by criminal syndicates due to archaic laws and regulations preventing gambling and wagering. The apprehension to regulate and legalize gambling/betting can be attributed to the influence of conservative religious and social groups as well as the social stigma attached to these activities which are considered pernicious and addictive.

However, the exceptions to the almost blanket prohibition on gambling activities is lotteries and betting on horse-racing. By a statute of the Parliament – the Lotteries (Regulation) Act of 1998 – it is legal for state governments to license and authorize lottery tickets and thus around 11 out of 29 states in India allow and license lottery tickets to be sold. A second exception is for betting on horse-racing and states such as Maharashtra, Delhi, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu allow betting on horse-racing in race-courses with licensed bookmakers. Thus, betting on horse-racing is a popular activity in major cities such as Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai.

Bhutan: Bhutan is a tiny nation in the Himalayan region to the east of India. Until recently it was a monarchy and though wagering activities are prevalent in Bhutanese society, such activities are considered illegal and are a criminal offence. Again the Bhutan government has created an exception for lotteries and the Bhutanese government regularly authorises lottery tickets to be licensed and sold including in India.

Nepal: The Nepalese government with the intention of promoting tourism has allowed casinos in five state hotels since 1967 and there are various casinos run by foreign entrepreneurs in Nepal. However, entry to these casinos is restricted to foreign (non-Nepalese) citizens above 21-years of age. Other forms of gambling and wagering are prohibited by law and it is a criminal offence to indulge in gambling and wagering activities. However, with the abdication of the monarch and political turmoil in the country with governments frequently changing and the left-wing Maoists having taken control of the state, the country is considered to be unsafe for tourists. Any regulatory changes in this country are unlikely in light of this political turmoil.

Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka, an island state to the south of India has had a liberal approach to gambling and betting activities. The state has allowed betting and casinos since 1988 but a Bill passed by the Sri Lankan Parliament in 2010 imposes stringent conditions for setting-up of casinos and a criminal offence to carry-out gambling activities without requisite license. Though Buddhist political parties and religious groups have opposed the move to regulate and allow casinos, after the end of the civil war, Sri Lanka is seen as an emerging economy and various top foreign companies, including Las Vegas Sands Corp and its Chairman Sheldon Adelson, are said to be investing in casinos in Sri Lanka.

Pakistan: Pakistan is a conservative religious society and an Islamic state so gambling is seen as an evil activity which is prohibited by law and even forbidden as per the Quran.  The Prevention of Gambling Act of 1977 prevents all forms of betting and wagering activities in Pakistan and makes any such activity in contravention of the Act a criminal offence. With the country marred in violence and the presence of extremist Talibanic elements who believe in Sharia law,  it is extremely unlikely that there will be any change in the gambling laws of the country and all forms of wagering activities shall remain prohibited in the foreseeable future.

Bangladesh: Bangladesh is a country to the east of India and has inherited the common law system and its Public Gambling Act of 1867 is very similar and almost identical to the Indian Public Gambling Act of 1867. Both India and Bangladeshi laws prohibit all forms of gambling and betting with the exception of lotteries and betting on horse-races. 

Note: The original version of the article published on Bookmakersreview can be accessed here.

Business Gaming

Sri Lanka relaxes taxes for casinos, attracts foreign investment- offers an alternative to Goa, Sikkim casinos

In a bid to attract foreign investment for casinos and to promote tourism, the Sri Lankan government has brought a proposal to reduce taxes on casinos to a mere five per cent and also offer tax holidays and long-term exemptions to those investing in this sector.

According to a recent report in Forbes,  Australian casino operator Crown Limited, India’s leading and only publicly traded casino company Delta Corp and certain other Asian companies are planning to open Macau style casinos in Sri Lanka. The report also speculates that American billionaire and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his company Las Vegas Sands (LVS) may be interested in starting operations in Sri Lanka as part of his long term vision to target the Indian gaming market.

A 2012 Forbes report also points out that LVS and Adelson are very keen to start casino operations in India and had even requested the Delhi tourism department to allow foreign investment in casinos, but the government has been unresponsive to demands for changing India’s archaic gaming laws.

It remains to be seen whether Sri Lanka will emerge as an alternative and successful gaming destination in Asia given the interest of major global casino companies and reduced tax burden on companies.  It may be noted that various casinos flourish in Colombo and other parts of Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka the first casinos opened in 1977 and the industry was largely unregulated and unlicensed until 2010.

The Sri Lankan parliament however passed the Casino (Business) Regulation Act 0f 2010 (having effect from 1st January 2012) which makes it mandatory to procure  licenses from the appropriate Ministry before commencing gaming licenses. Running unlicensed gaming operations has been made a criminal offence punishable with imprisonment upto five years and/or fine upto Sri Lanka Rs. five million.

Note: A copy of the Casino (Business) Regulation Act  [in English] can be accessed here.