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Turmoil is not a new word for Goa’s casino industry. Despite being a significant contributor to the state’s coffers, Goa’s casinos have faced the brunt of public and political criticism for far too long. But our latest update from Goa comes as what can only be seen as a welcome, though temporary respite. The state government has extended permission for offshore casinos to operate from River Mandovi for another six months.
In other updates, Malta-based venture capital fund Veereni Investments has acquired a sizeable stake in India-facing real-money fantasy sports portal, Nostragamus. The Indian Federation of Sports Gaming (IFSG) meanwhile has come out with the first-of-its-kind survey report titled ‘Fantasy Sports: Measuring its impact on actual sports consumption’ in conjunction with market experts, Nielson.
Going back to Goa, the GST Council had a meeting in the coastal state this week, but things didn’t go so well for the casino and lottery sectors. The Council did not accede to the tax-related demands made by them and has referred the operator demands for reducing the 28% GST to the Group of Ministers (GoM). On the contrary, it seems that the Council may ease down the current formula for charging GST on horse racing and levy tax only on the commission retained by clubs and bookmakers rather than the face value of bets.
PokerStars has a knack for being in the headlines and rightfully so given that they are the industry leaders. Coming off a record-breaking WCOOP, one would have expected them to be creating a lot of positive buzz, but there have been two disturbing updates concerning the company. The gaming giant was apparently caught flouting gaming regulations by allowing Dutch players to access PokerStars’ Europe-facing site and has been slapped with a €400K fine for the violation. The company has also announced plans to lay off a big group of employed staff at its two Isle of Man offices.
Meanwhile, mobile and online sports betting is set to go live in the U.S. state of Indiana on October 3 when Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming will become the first online betting provider to begin operations.
Just two days ago we had reported on how the Goa`s Ports Ministry was hunting for a suitable location at Aguada Bay to relocate the offshore casinos currently moored on River Mandovi. In what comes as an expected move, the state’s cabinet has now extended the permission for offshore casinos to operate from River Mandovi for another six months, that is, till March 31, 2020.
The go-ahead for the extension was given on Wednesday in view of the fact that the state government was yet to identify an alternative site for the relocation of the casinos.
Confirming the news, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said, “As a policy decision, we have decided what can be done within the next six months. The casinos will remain in the Mandovi for the next six months,” Sawant said.
Sawant, who has publicly acknowledged that casinos are vital for the state’s tourism, had on Tuesday held a meeting with the Panaji MLA to discuss the shifting of offshore casinos. Later, Port Minister Michael Lobo divulged that the Ports department is hunting for a location that is safe to access for the tourists who approach the casinos in feeder boats. The department will identify and look into the feasibility of the site by this week, Lobo said.
Now, this isn’t the first time that the offshore casinos have been given a six-month extension. In the absence of a long-standing policy or a final decision on their relocation, the government has been granting extensions to the casinos for more than a year now. In fact, the first six-month extension to offshore casinos had been issued by the government in April 2018. The last extension was granted in March this year, and the decision drew flak from the chief opposition party in the state, Congress.
Last month, in the midst of a vitriolic political opposition, the Corporation of the City of Panaji (CCP) had declared that they will not be renewing the trade license of any of the offshore casinos next year.
The proposed relocation to Aguada Bay could but the state government some more time in delivering its long-pending casino policy and moving the casinos to land.
According to recent reports, Malta-based venture capital fund, Vereeni Investments, has made a seven-figure investment in Indian daily fantasy sports (DFS) operator Nostragamus. After getting this investment, Nostragamus will be joining Vereeni’s €100 million ‘Level Up’ tech fund alongside other early-stage ventures spanning the fintech, online gaming, business intelligence, insurance technology and blockchain verticals across the world. The deal will see Vereeni acquiring a significant stake in Nostragamus in return for a seven-figure capital infusion in the start-up.
The Bengaluru-based fantasy sports start-up operates a popular mobile application which has been downloaded more than 5 million times and adds over half a million new downloads every month. Nostragamus allows players to draft teams and predict results across a range of sports including cricket, football, basketball, tennis, badminton, and kabaddi, with the chance to win real-money prizes. The operator has enjoyed considerable success in the fast-growing Indian market.
Talking about the investment, founder and CEO of Vereeni Investments, Tim Heath said, “We have chosen to make a significant investment in Nostragamus because we are hugely impressed by its team and the speed at which it has scaled. India is an exciting market for the gaming industry, and Nostragamus’ innovative marketing and world-class product proposition places it at the head of the field.”
Yashashvi Takallapalli, CEO of Nostragamus, also shared his views on the deal stating, “This investment from Vereeni will not only help us accelerate our growth, but also give us access to an unparalleled network of international igaming expertise. We are thrilled to join the Vereeni network and look forward to further pushing forward the fantasy sports vertical over the coming months and years.”
The Indian Federation of Sports Gaming (IFSG), in association with marketing agency Nielsen, recently released a survey titled ‘Fantasy Sports: Measuring its impact on actual sports consumption.’
It was a custom study wherein 1169 respondents were covered from cities such as – Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad.
Out of the total sample size of 1169, 566 respondents were fantasy sports players, and 603 respondents were non-fantasy sports players. The survey indicated that 37% of fantasy sports players consume over six to eight hours of real-life sports content per week to stay abreast with knowledge on players and match conditions turning passive sports viewers into active participants of a match.
This first-of-its-kind survey also revealed that out of the 566 respondents who play fantasy sports, 78% follow live cricket matches by either tracking updates through an online scoreboard or using online apps while 66% follow cricket players and team news online so that they can understand which players are performing well. Moreover, the study also showed that nearly 100% of the respondents follow cricket, while football is the second most tracked sport, with 40% fantasy sports players and 43% non-fantasy sports players tracking the sport.
The survey also stated that almost 99% of fantasy sports players and 86% non-fantasy gaming participants were aware of Dream11, while the second most followed fantasy gaming brand is MyTeam11, which 45% fantasy and 34% non-fantasy players were knowledgeable about.
Talking about the findings of the survey, Anwar Shirpurwala, CEO of IFSG, said, “India is a sports loving nation. Alongside cricket which remains our most watched sport, we are witnessing increased viewership of sports like Kabaddi and Hockey as well as the advent shorter format sports leagues like IPL, Indian Super League (ISL), Pro Kabaddi League (PKL).
The fantasy sports platforms are enabling casual fans to engage with the sports they love becoming core sports fans. The growth of the online fantasy sports gaming platforms is resulting in a growth in the viewership of various formats of sports. The findings validate the strong potential of Fantasy Sports in contributing to the growth of sports ecosystem of India.”
The lottery and casino sectors were dealt a significant setback last week when the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council in its meeting in Goa refused to accede to the tax-related demands made by them.
On the other hand, the Council seems to have taken a more lenient stance as far as the demand for the restructuring of the GST taxation structure in horse racing is concerned. While the Council is yet to make an official announcement on the same, newly elected chairman of the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC), Zavaray Poonawalla, has predicted that the current GST structure for horse betting will soon be changed, with tax being levied on the commission retained by clubs and bookmakers rather than the face value of bets.
GST Council on the Lottery Sector
The lottery sector has been demanding that a uniform rate of tax be applied on lottery tickets across all the states where lotteries are legally permitted. However, reports indicate that the eight-member Group of Ministers (GoM) panel that is headed by Maharashtra’s Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar could not arrive at a consensus on the same. The GoM was tasked to get all member states on board for the same but faced opposition and differing opinions from the West Bengal and Kerala governments.
Casino Industry’s GST Woes
The GST Council also heard out the representation made by the casino industry demanding a reduction of the currently levied Goods and Services Tax (GST) rate from 28% to 12% on gross earnings. However, the demand was rejected by a majority of the Council members including Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman who said they couldn’t do so, keeping in mind the sentiments of the people of Goa.
But for now, the GST Council has referred the issue to the GoM. Confirming this, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said, “There was some issue on GST on gross revenue, which has now been handed over to the Group of Ministers for further discussion. It is for the GST council to decide.”
Better GST Structure For Horse Betting?
Will the currently applied structure of Goods and Services Tax (GST) on horse betting soon be changed? Zavaray Poonawalla, the newly elected chairman of the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) certainly feels so.
Poonawalla is confident that the manner in which GST is charged on horse-betting is about to undergo a considerable change. He feels that going ahead, GST will be levied only on the commission retained by clubs and bookmakers rather than the face value of bets.
In an interview with The Times of India, Poonawalla, referring to the GST Council’s meeting in Goa where a decision was made in the matter of horse racing and how it must be taxed by the GoM, stated, “Now that Fitment Committee also feels that the GST should be charged on commission and has conveyed its sentiments, we strongly believe that GoM will recommend what we are looking for.”
Poonawalla also said that it is favorable that GoM has ministers from racing centers like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal. “They are aware of the bad impact of that GST in bet value. It is killing our sport which is an industry and employs lakhs of people across the country,” said Poonawalla.
“Before GoM meeting, which is likely to happen in a month’s time, we will meet ministers and remind them about our concerns again,” he assured.
The Stars Group (TSG), the parent company of PokerStars, was recently slapped with a €400,000 fine by Dutch gambling regulator Kansspelautoriteit. The fine was issued after KSA completed its probe into the allegations that the online poker giant was operating in the Netherlands without a license.
The KSA probe that was launched in 2018 found that TSG was allowing Dutch players access to PokerStars.eu. Investigations revealed that transactions were made from close to 33,000 Netherlands-based PokerStars accounts over six weeks. The investigation also revealed that PokerStars was using Dutch payment processor iDEAL as a deposit option, clear evidence that the company was knowingly targeting Dutch players.
The Netherlands is a banned jurisdiction, and the only company in the country that is legally permitted to offer real-money poker games is the Holland Casino.
In the wake of the KSA probe, PokerStars has removed iDEAL from the payment options on its Europe site and no longer offers Dutch as a language on its website. The company has also reasoned that it included information on problem gambling – a KSA recommended move as a responsible gambling practice.
While TSG is not the first company to face a financial penalty from KSA – Unibet, Casino.com, GVC, William Hill, and Betsson, all feature on the list of operators that have been fined in the past, the ramifications for the company are more significant. According to Dutch laws, TSG will now have to wait for another two years before it can apply for a gaming license in the country.
The Stars Group (TSG) is planning to lay off a large number of employees from its offices in the Isle of Man. If media reports are anything to go by, the company will terminate the services of nearly 80 employees out from his 450-strong staff currently employed at its two offices situated in the Isle of Man.
The move comes from TSG’s continued financial losses in the region. The company has been struggling with falling traffic that has seen a double-digit fall annually over the past decade. TSG has given prior warning to the employees about the impending move, and 10 among them may be let-go by the end of this year itself. This will be followed by more layoffs in the next two years. Reports also state that around 50 members of its Malta hub will be at risk of their jobs.
Explaining the decision, a company representative said, “As we’ve previously noted, our international segment (PokerStars) has faced many headwinds over the last year, including disruptions in our key markets. As a result, we are pursuing operational initiatives, including cost-optimization initiatives, as we’ve done in the past, to reassess our fixed cost base and realign our costs with our global growth strategy.”
TSG says the layoffs will help them meet their current growth targets and assist in future growth. The government has, in the meantime, stepped in to the aid of all employees who are in danger of losing their jobs. A spokesperson of the Isle of Man Department of Enterprise stated – “Our innovative digital sector and strong economy means tech skills are in high demand and we therefore would hope that those staff ultimately affected will have a number of opportunities elsewhere on the island.”
Sports betting became officially legal in Indiana on September 1. Almost a month later, on October 3, mobile and online sports betting will be launched in the U.S. state.
Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming will be the first online betting provider in the Hoosier state. According to Indiana gaming officials, the company’s mobile sports betting product has met the regulatory requirements of the state. Rush Street Gaming has partnered with French Lick Casino for offering online and mobile sports betting in Indiana.
The state legislature passed the sports betting bill to allow sports gambling both online and at gambling facilities in May after Governor Eric Holcomb signed the bill into law.
The commission then decided to roll it out in two phases i.e., first open brick-and-mortar locations and then focus on the mobile rollout in phase two.