It has been more than a month since IPL was suspended indefinitely. The dates and venue of IPL 2021 – Part 2 have been finalised. The remainder of PSL has been moved to the UAE. The Asia Cup has been cancelled. A tour to Sri Lanka by a white-ball Indian team (Yes, I do not like the sound of calling it a second-string side) has been confirmed, while the red ball team plays England in England in a marathon 5-match test series after playing the WTC final, of course. Bangladesh has won yet another ODI series at home. The English summer has just kicked off with the tests against the Kiwis. So basically, a lot has been happening in the cricketing world.
Amidst these major events, there are other things that are going on ceaselessly. Things that did not stop even last year. Things that not many people have an idea about because none of the mainstream cricket portals covers any of them. However, open any of the fantasy cricket apps, and you will see a lot of tournaments that are unheard of – SpiceIsle T10, Vincy Premier League, ECS T10, Zimbabwe Women v South Africa Emerging Women, Ireland Women v Scotland Women etc. These platforms provide ball-by-ball updates and in some cases live streaming as well for the fantasy gamers to keep a tab on how they are faring, thus keeping cricket alive amidst the absence of tier-1 action.
THE OG FANTASY CRICKET GAME
Fantasy cricket has seen incredible growth in the last few years. However, when it started 20 years ago with a game called Super Selector, it was very different from its current money-spinning avatar. The fundamentals, though, were the same – you select 11 players and earn points based on their performance on the field and based on your rank, you win prizes. Who would have thought that a game which offered an opportunity for cricket fans to become experts will become a major economical machine!
“We had a sense it could become big by the sheer response, but in those days internet bandwidth technology and easy payment apps were the barriers. I think ESPN Star missed a huge trick by not continuing with it though. We had seen the future but failed to act on it,” quips the creator of Super Selector, Sports broadcast legend, Joy Bhattacharjya, who was an Executive Producer in ESPN Star Sports back then.
The birth of franchise cricket gave fantasy gaming a shot in the arm. With the launch of IPL, cricket changed and so did fantasy cricket. The prizes were bigger and the stakes were higher and with the growth of Dream11, the first Indian gaming company to become a unicorn, fantasy cricket as we see it today was born. The success of one platform led to the mushrooming of multiple platforms and now gamers have far too many options to choose from. Not just that, fantasy gaming for other sports is also available and fast gaining popularity among users, in turn popularizing a lot of other sports as well.
With money flowing into fantasy cricket, it has developed into an ecosystem of its own. It is not just about gamers anymore. It has opened the doors for a lot many earning opportunities. It has become such a serious business that there are now websites which provide detailed data analyses and fantasy tips for gamers who have not yet got a hang of things. Many platforms now curate videos from fantasy experts who analyze the upcoming games exclusively from a fantasy perspective and guide the gamers into picking a winning squad. Cricket analyst and fantasy expert Babasish Nanda says, “The content I create is directed towards the avid fantasy gamers who look for engaging predictive analysis that helps their cause. The numbers and analyses are meant to aid the gamers while we strongly advise to use their own conviction and insights to create a team suitable for their style of play.”
If the legal aspect of India is a Venn diagram, then the intersecting portion of what is legal and what is not will be the largest area. Fantasy cricket/gaming falls in one such grey area. Now, as per the Public Gambling Act of 1867, gambling and keeping of the common gaming houses is illegal. However, an exception is made for games of skill. This is what results in the grey area. There is a lot of debate about whether fantasy gaming is akin to betting and gambling or is it a game of skill? Both Joy and Babasish feel it is more tilted towards skill than chance. “It is a game of skill with generous doses of luck, which happens in every game. You need to catch a break with some of your lesser-known picks, but there is definitely strategy involved,” says Joy. Babasish feels, “Cricket itself is a game of tremendous skill, yet every cricketer needs some form of rub of the green going their way. Similarly, while many aspects of Fantasy cricket, such as player performance, budget appetite and risk management can be analyzed and regulated. There is definitely some amount of luck involved.”
Nagaland took the first step towards clarifying with the Nagaland Gaming Legislation of 2015 which recognizes virtual fantasy league games and virtual team selection games as skill games. The Punjab and Haryana High Court was the first Indian Court to recognize fantasy sports game to be predominantly based on skill. Its landmark judgement of 2017 was ratified by the Supreme Court when it passed an order dismissing the appeal filed against the decision of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
Now, with games of skill exempted from the Public Gaming Act and with the Supreme Court ratifying that fantasy sports games are games of skill, the legalities should be uniform all over India, isn’t it? Seems not. Different states have different laws with respect to this. Most fantasy gaming platforms do not allow residents of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Sikkim, Telangana, Nagaland and Odisha to play. While Andhra has changed the Gaming Act within the state, the stance of the other mentioned states is unclear on games of skills that have to be played for a fee. Also, interestingly, if there is an existing legislation in a state pertaining to gambling, it prevails over the Public Gambling Act of 1867.
WAY FORWARD FOR BARRED STATES
The exponentially rising popularity of fantasy gaming is something that states will have to look at. While most citizens of the country are enjoying this game of skill, some being deprived is extremely unfair. Sooner than later, the six aforementioned states should make necessary amends. As far as our state is concerned, the Orissa Prevention of Gambling Act, 1955 is one of the 206 obsolete laws which have been proposed to be repealed through the Odisha Repealing Bill 2021 tabled by Law Minister Pratap Jena. When this comes into force, fantasy apps should start allowing residents of Odisha to play on their platforms and with this move, hopefully, Odisha will be showing the other states a way forward.
(With special inputs from Advocate Prabhu Prasanna Behera.)
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)