Cricket: The End of Fantasy Sports

Year on year, modern sports has become an ever-increasingly commercialised industry. The influence of sports betting bodies and partnerships has fuelled the engagement of sports fans further by making these sports virtually available any day of the week. But it’s not just sports, it’s every conceivable game going. We are awash with online casinos that can service players with live Teen Patti, slot machines, Fantasy Football, and console gaming. eSports is the latest trend-setting engagement service offering up ways to bet on games like FIFA and Counter-Strike.

The world of fantasy sport is the one currently being brought under contention as a game of skill, rather than one of chance. This wing of the entertainments industry generated a staggering 2,400+R crore for the year 2020. A year previously, the market was only generating 920+R crore. It is expected that the market could grow 22% over the new two years.

Such commercial success and interest by the public to engage with fantasy sports have not gone unnoticed by lawmakers.

The Crackdown on Cricket

What is fantasy sport? The gaming process is simple. Participants will join a licensed platform that introduces a specific sport. From this, users will generate their own fantasy team from a catalogue of official players.

This can work in the field of football, cricket, and basketball.

Performances on the real field of play will produce scores for the professional individuals and, as such, fantasy teams gain accumulative points that place them in a position on the leaderboard.

In India, these services often come with the option of playing two gaming formats. There is the ‘free’ model, and there is the ‘pay to play’ model.

As you will have guessed, there is no financial trade-off with the free service. Whereas the ‘pay to play’ model does require the participants to make a deposit for the entry fee.

Now, this not only produces a lot of financial gain for the operator, but the government also benefits from the taxation on businesses.

However, there is a threat to undo everything within this field of entertainment and sports betting on a whole.

In August of 2021, the Supreme Court upheld Dream11 fantasy sports format as game of skill.

This legal case has taken a source of entertainment. One that tests the knowledge of cricket fans and turns it into a source of gambling.

Sports Betting Now Under Threat

Fantasy sports carry a lot of interest, and it should be to no one surprise that cricket is leading these interests within the Indian market.

This raises numerous questions of gambling and betting within the domain of fantasy sports. Something that needs to be discussed by each State, given they control their laws.

There are states within India, like Orissa, Assam, and Telangana that outright prohibit the ideas of betting. The validity of the act raised by Telangana officials in August, is still pending a challenge which was raised in the High Court.

There are, however, other states that accept gambling and approve games of skill.

This case does raise some interesting points surrounding the model of fantasy gaming. Can it really be skill-based when the action of players on a field is relative to acts of random outcomes during play?

It’s understandable that knowledge can help the participant to select the right players.  This helps them to form potentially the best team. Ultimately someone has to come top of the leaderboard, but there is no telling which sportsmen will perform or take part game by game.

Where does this leave sports betting in general? Would Indian state governments really ban all sports betting, despite its financial benefits? The revenue in cricket betting alone amasses fortunes through its tax model, with wins over 10,000R taxed at 30 per cent.

It also raised questions over why games like cricket should be under threat, yet horse racing can still endure despite having a greater argument that skill is involved.

Games of Chance or Games of Skill

What is skill? How is it being defined by the lawyer arguing for and against the Telangana Act within the High Courts?

With online cricket betting, the act of predicting the outcome of a game is based on team form, past performances, and team selection. These are the only areas of interest taken by any general participant to betting.

Does knowing these details prior to a game being played merit a win? Surely, knowledge isn’t a skill because it is freely available, and it has no effect on the outcome of any event.

The courts noted that a game of chance is one that is largely or entirely determined by luck.  On the subject of skill. This would depend on the superior knowledge belonging to the players taking part.

The courts concluded that though there is an element of chance involved with games of skill, that skill predominates the notion that chance is all it takes to be successful.

This leads to fantasy sports being a vice of gambling and as such becomes illegal by state law. Games of skill, on the other hand, enjoy protection via Article 19 (1) (g) of the Indian Constitution.