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January closes out today, and while the month has seen high-octane action all around, there’s been a lot of movement in the gaming sector as well. Ace cricketer and skipper of the Indian cricket team, Virat Kohli, who has been the face of the Mobile Premier League (MPL) since March 2019, will continue to endorse the Bengaluru-based mobile e-sports platform. MPL has renewed its sponsorship deal with the cricketer for another year.
There have been legal flutters in the cases related to charges of GST evasion against Dream11, and the saga continues. The Supreme Court had in December, quashed the Special Leave Petitions (SLP) against the Bombay High Court’s order dated April 30. The petitioner, Gurdeep Singh Sachar, has recently moved the Supreme Court seeking clarification on the scope of its December 13 order. In the mentioned ruling, the court had dismissed the Special Leave Petitions (SLP) and permitted the Central Government to file a review petition only on the GST evasion charges with the Bombay High Court. The Union government unsurprisingly followed through by submitting a review petition at the Bombay High Court. While Sachar’s plea is listed for hearing today, the Centre’s review plea is expected to be heard in February.
The biggest story coming out of Asia is the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus in China. The widespread panic has led to a drastic reduction in the number of visitors to Macau’s casinos, adversely affecting their business.
Moving over to the U.S. state of Michigan, we have reports coming in that state that the Gaming Control Board has clarified that implementation of the Lawful Internet Gaming Act will take at least a year more. The concrete formulation of the online rules is yet to be completed by the regulators. On the bright side, two bills, HB 2478 and HB 2368, seeking legalization of sports betting at Indian casinos were introduced in Washington this month.
Fast-growing mobile gaming platform Mobile Premier League (MPL) had roped in the Indian Cricket team captain Virat Kohli as its Brand Ambassador in March 2019. The association will continue for another year now since MPL and Kohli have inked a renewal of their brand sponsorship. Kohli will remain the face of MPL and represent the brand across channels and other ad promos.
Talking about the association, co-founder and CEO of MPL, Sai Srinivas said, “We are honoured and privileged to have Virat continue his association with the MPL family. With his love and support, we have started to march towards our goal of democratising esports and skill monetisation across india. Virat, his persona, and his positivity resonates across our youth, and along with him, we are looking forward to doing our bit to empower the immensely large talent pool in our country.”
MPL has charted rapid growth and boasts of a registered user base of 32 million users already, with over 5 Billion gameplays clocked on the platform. The site focusses on skill-based gaming and offers a wide array of cricket game collections across formats like predictions, virtual games of skill, and fantasy.
In his official statement following the renewal of the brand association, Kohli said, “I am happy to announce that I have renewed my association with mobile premier league (MPL). In just over a year, I have seen this young Indian startup grow and reach fans across India. I look forward to supporting them in achieving their goal of being the number one gaming company in India.”
He added, “MPL is a young company with exceptional leadership and is on track to become the largest e-sports platform. Our partnership thus far has been fantastic and we look forward to helping them grow from strength to strength along with Virat.”
The Indian skipper, who enjoys a huge fan following, was seen in several video campaigns released by MPL last year. The most prominent of them was the #GameKheloHeroBano TVC campaign that was launched by MPL in April. At that time, MPL’s registered user base was 25 Million. Kohli was also seen in a recent digital video campaign called ‘Meet Virat.’
The fantasy gaming sector got a shot in the arm last December when the Supreme Court of India dismissed the three Special Leave Petitions (SLP) filed by advocate Gurdeep Singh Sachar, the Union government and the Government of Maharashtra, respectively. The SLPs challenged the Bombay High Court’s order dated April 30, 2019, where the High Court had dismissed charges that Dream11 was hosting games of chance, and was evading GST by paying the same at 18%. Though the Apex Court firmly asserted that Dream11 was hosting games of skill, the court did allow the Union Government to file a review petition at the Bombay High Court to pursue the alleged GST evasion charges.
In the latest development, Sachar has filed an application in the Supreme Court seeking clarification on the dismissal of the SLPs. At the same time, the Union Government has also gone ahead and submitted a review petition at the Bombay High Court.
While Sachar’s appeal is listed for hearing at the Supreme Court today, the Union Government’s review plea at Bombay High Court will likely come up for hearing next month.
Sachar Vs. Dream11 – The Bombay High Court had on April 30, 2019, dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by advocate Gurdeep Singh Sachar against Dream11. Sachar had claimed in his petition that the site was hosting games of chance that amounted to gambling and that it was evading GST. Sachar next filed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) challenging the order but the Supreme Court dismissed the SLP on December 13.
According to a Glaws report, in his latest submission, Sachar has sought clarification from the Supreme Court why the permission was given to Union of India to file a review petition only on the GST issue, and why the skill-gaming factor cannot be reviewed.
Sachar in his petition submitted, “It would be just and expedient if the said Order dated 13.12.2019 passed by this Hon’ble Court is appropriately clarified/modified so that the even [sic] the first issue whether the activities of Respondent No. 3 (Dream11) amounts to Gambling/Betting can be reviewed at least for deciding the issues of GST.”
Sachar’s plea is scheduled for hearing today before Justices Rohinton F. Nariman and S. Ravindra Bhat.
Centre Vs. Dream11 – Like Sachar, the Union government and the government of Maharashtra had challenged the Bombay High Court’s order in the Supreme Court. The Union government was alleging Dream11 of evading GST to the tune of ₹2,173 Crores, which they claim arises at a computation of 28% and not 18% as is being paid by the gaming company.
As was expected, the government has filed a review petition in the Bombay High Court seeking a revisit to the GST evasion charges against Dream11. The matter was listed for hearing today, but a division bench of Justices Ranjit More and SP Tavade seemed disinclined to revisit the issue of whether Dream11 hosted games of gambling or skill. The bench has reportedly directed the registry to verify and place the matter before the appropriate court, and the review plea is likely to be scheduled for hearing in February.
The new coronavirus outbreak in China that has been declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO), has severely affected the tourism sector of the country. According to the country’s tourism office, tourism is down 66% compared to 2018. With over 80 confirmed deaths and over 2,700 registered cases in total, the outbreak that came to light during the Lunar New Year has severely impacted Macau’s gambling industry.
Further worsening the matter, Macau’s leader Ho Iat Seng has stated that he may consider temporarily closing all the casinos until the disease is contained. Brands like McDonalds and Starbucks have already closed down temporarily in the affected regions.
In the wake of the news, stock prices of many casinos have dropped. Wynn Resorts’ stock price dropped 11%, Wynn Macau Ltd. fell 13%, and Sands China Ltd. fell by 8%. Last year, the revenue from casinos was down by 3.4%, which was the worst recorded year-over-year (YOY) decline since 2015.
Gaming regulators in Michigan are targeting a deadline of 2021 for drafting the rules for online gambling in the state. According to recent reports from The Detroit News, the licensing process will begin only after the regulations are finalized.
According to the Michigan Gaming Control Board’s spokesperson, Mary Kay Bean, the target has been set based on past experiences of developing rules for other gambling sectors. Bean also said that for retail sports betting, the aim is to launch by spring.
Brandt Iden, the sponsor of the bill, said, “Until we’re fully integrated online, I don’t think we’ll be able to capitalize on revenue. But from a consumer protection standpoint, from getting players interested, certainly getting up and going in person is helpful.”
Governor Gretchen Whitmer had signed Iden’s bill into law just before Christmas last year, legalizing online gambling and in-person sports betting in the state.
This month, two sports betting bills named HB 2478 and HB 2368 were introduced in Washington. If the bills are passed, it will legalize sports betting at all Indian casinos in the state.
Bill HB 2478 is sponsored by Brandon Vick and seeks to legalize sports betting at private card rooms, horse tracks along with online and mobile betting. Under the bill, tribal casinos will be allowed to offer online sportsbooks. On the other hand, Bill HB 2368 was filed as its counterpart but will not allow online betting and restrict sports betting to retail locations.
If either of the bills gets passed by the Senate, it will empower the tribes to renegotiate the terms to allow sports betting. However, according to the Associated Press, these bills will likely see a push back from the private card room owners in the state.
Maverick Gaming operates 19 private card rooms in the state, and its owner Eric Persson said that apart from sports betting, the company should be allowed to offer online sports betting as well. Persson emphasized, “That’s what the consumer wants.”
It’s important to note that playing online poker is a Class C felony in Washington, and the legalization of online sports betting could lead to a positive change for online poker in the state.