6 Minutes Read
If the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a boom in online gaming, with the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2020 now underway, its season time for sports bettors. Well aware of the prevalent grey market of bookies catering to this massive demand for gambling, the Maharashtra government is reportedly looking at the possibility of legalizing online betting to augment its tax revenue.
At the same time, the Board For Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) has entered an agreement with Sportsradar Integrity Services to safeguard and monitor the integrity of gameplay at IPL matches. Sportsradar will provide essential support to BCCI’s Anti-Corruption Unit to ensure fair play at the series.
Payments app Paytm and its online gaming arm Paytm First Games were temporarily suspended by Google from its Play Store last week. While the Paytm app was restored soon, the Paytm First Games app is yet to be reinstated on the Play Store. It appears that Google had banned Paytm because of a UPI cashback campaign called the Paytm Cricket League that was running on the app, which Google identified as a violation of its Play Store policies on gambling. Paytm has not taken to the ban well, instead called it arm twisting.
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has filed a counter affidavit in the Madras High Court in response to the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed against online gambling by advocate A.P. Suryaprakasam. The petitioner has demanded the Union Government and the state government block all online gambling websites. The DoT has sought its dismissal on the grounds that the Information Technology Act of 2000 already provides for the blocking of objectionable websites.
Interest in the booming online gaming space in India keeps increasing. The Bengaluru-based esports and mobile gaming platform, Mobile Premier League (MPL), recently raised $90 Million (~₹661.30 Crores) in a Series C funding round.
Maharashtra Government Considering the Legalization of Online Betting
Maharashtra may have the highest number of COVID-19 cases, but that hasn’t prevented the state government from considering legalizing online betting. With the unprecedented growth that online gaming has witnessed during the nationwide lockdown, the possibility that online betting can give a definitive boost to the state economy is a valid point to consider, especially given the fact that the 2020 Indian Premier League (IPL) is already underway.
This is precisely the opposite approach adopted by some other central states such as Andhra Pradesh, moving toward an online gambling ban.
An unnamed Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Cabinet member in Maharashtra was quoted as saying: “If we impose GST on the transaction, we expect to mobilise at least ₹2,500 Crore (US$350m) from the operators.”
A few months back, when the idea of legalizing online betting was first mooted by NCP cabinet members, the state government had set up a task force headed by former Additional Chief Secretary (Finance) Sudhir Srivastava to examine the legal aspects and to submit a feasibility report.
When the pandemic has destabilized the national economy, cash-strapped Maharashtra is eyeing the legalization of online betting to generate revenue for overcoming the COVID-induced financial crisis.
BCCI Appoints Sportradar to Monitor Betting Malpractices During IPL
The Board For Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) has signed an agreement with Sportradar Integrity Services, the world’s leading supplier of sports integrity solutions and sports data products, to support its Anti-Corruption Unit in monitoring and safeguarding the integrity of matches in the 2020 IPL season.
The 2020 IPL season is presently underway with four matches already crowning champions in Chennai Super Kings (CSK), Delhi Capitals (DC), Royal Challengers Bangalore (RBC), and Rajasthan Royals (RR), respectively. The international firm will use advanced data analytics and keep an eye on the betting markets to protect the league’s integrity.
“As part of the agreement, all matches in IPL 2020 will be monitored by Sportradar’s Integrity Services to detect betting irregularities,” a statement released by the company on September 17 said. “Sportradar will also provide a risk assessment to the BCCI, driven by intelligence and data-driven insights. Furthermore, the BCCI will be able to call upon Sportradar’s Intelligence and Investigation Services during the term of the partnership, if required.”
An IPL source, who confirmed the development, also revealed, “Sportradar has very recently red-flagged at least half a dozen games in the Goa football league that came under a fixing cloud. They have also worked with FIFA, UEFA, and various leagues across the globe.”
The BCCI Anti-Corruption Unit has, in recent times, tracked unusual betting patterns during state T20 leagues, including the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL), as a prominent betting website stopped taking bets after unusual bets were being placed.
According to Sportradar, its Fraud Detection System (FDS) “is a unique service that identifies betting-related manipulation in sport. This is possible due to the FDS’s sophisticated algorithms and constantly maintained database of odds, which are leveraged for the purpose of detecting match-fixing.”
Sportradar Integrity Services’ Managing Director Andreas Krannich added, “It is an honour to partner with the BCCI for the 2020 IPL season. As the global leader in sporting integrity, we hope to provide our expertise and help protect the tournament against integrity-related issues. We know that the BCCI takes integrity seriously, and we look forward to working alongside them throughout the tournament and providing our support to their integrity programme.”
Paytm Criticizes Google For ‘Arm-Twisting’ After the App Removed From Play Store
The temporary suspension of payments app Paytm from the Google Play Store last week has raised quite a furor.
The app was reportedly suspended but restored back on Google Play Store on September 18, hours after being removed from the app store for gambling policy violations. According to the latest reports, Paytm was not pulled out for gambling policy violations but instead suspended temporarily for launching a UPI cashback campaign called Paytm Cricket League. The campaign aimed to offer Paytm users stickers for making payments and money transfers through the app, which could then be redeemed for cashback. This was identified by Google as a violation of its Play Store policies on gambling, and it suspended the app.
The brand’s Paytm First Games app is still off the Google Play Store.
On Sunday, Paytm criticized its temporary ban from the Google Play Store as ‘arm-twisting’ by the global search major.
In a blog post, the Noida-based firm said that Google didn’t allow them to explain its new cashback sticker feature. Paytm said, “we were forced to comply with Google’s mandate of removing our UPI cashback offer and scratch cards to get re-listed.”
The blog also stated that suddenly UPI cashback was called an “online casino” by Google.
The brand also tweeted its blog:
A series of events, as they unfolded.https://t.co/SXuLSbX5u2
— Paytm (@Paytm) September 20, 2020
Paytm further said, “This will be familiar to all Indian internet companies since they face similar arm-twisting and fear of Google’s dominance over India’s digital ecosystem every day.”
Paytm reiterated that since Google owns Android, it holds a market share of 95 percent of smartphones in India, and hence, it has “enormous control” overs apps via its Play Store policies.
The blog added, “There is a bigger question here that the Indian startup ecosystem and developers should think about. As a startup, we are running law-abiding businesses and building for India. Google and its employees are making policies which are over and above the laws of our country, and are arbitrarily implementing them.”
The blog further explained that on September 11, Paytm had launched a campaign that allowed users to collect stickers and scratch cards that also resulted in UPI cashback. This was applicable to recharge, utility payments, UPI money transfers, and adding money to the Paytm wallet.
On September 18, Paytm received an email from Google Play Support informing them that the Paytm app has been taken down from the platform. The email read, “Your app contains content that doesn’t comply with the Gambling policy as it offers games with “loyalty” (e.g. engagement or activity) points that (1) are accrued or accelerated via real-money purchases which (2) can be exchanged for items or prizes of real-world monetary value.”
According to Paytm, this was the first time Google had approached it regarding UPI cashback and scratch card campaigns. Moreover, it was not allowed to respond to the concern raised. As per the Paytm blog, “We maintain that our cashback campaign was within guidelines, as well as all laws of the land. We did not break any rules, and there was no violation. It is not related to gambling in any manner whatsoever.”
DoT Urges Madras HC to Dismiss PIL Against Online Gambling
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has reached out to the Madras High Court, seeking the dismissal of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) recently filed against online gambling.
The PIL had been filed by advocate A.P. Suryaprakasam who has demanded the Union Government and the State government to block all online gambling websites and bring those who are running such websites to book.
On Tuesday, the DoT that functions under the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY), filed a country affidavit against the PIL. The DoT submitted before Justices M.M. Sundresh and R. Hemalatha that the Information Technology Act of 2000 already has provisions for blocking objectionable websites. So the PIL should not be entertained.
In the submission, Director (Administration) T.G. Srinivas told the court that the IT Rules of 2009 clearly lay down the process to block websites. The rules have empowered the Group Coordinator of Cyber Law Division of DoIT to block the websites on the grounds listed in the Act.
The DoT also pointed out that Section 69A of the IT Act gave IT officials the power to block any websites that threatened the country’s sovereignty, integrity, defense, or security. The websites can also be blocked to maintain public order or prevent the commission of any cognizable offense.
Srinivas added, “It is submitted that from the above factors, there is a procedure contemplated for blocking of access by the public. It is therefore prayed that this honourable court may be pleased to take it into consideration and dismiss the writ petition.”
The court has allowed the counter affidavit and directed the state government to file its counter-affidavit. The case has been adjourned to the last week of September.
Additionally, the court has also accepted online rummy websites’ request to present their own submissions in the case.
Mobile Premier League (MPL) Raises $90M in Series C Funding Round
Bangalore-based esports and mobile gaming platform, Mobile Premier League (MPL) has raised a massive $90 Million (~₹661.30 Crores) in a recent Series C funding round.
The funding was led by SIG and early-stage tech investor RTP Global and MDI Ventures, and Pegasus Tech Ventures. Existing investors of the startup – Sequoia India, Go-Ventures, and Base Partners also participated in the funding round.
The company confirmed the investment in a statement –“This capital will be used to further accelerate MPL’s dominant position in the gaming market, expand its product offering, and grow its team. The funding will also be used towards product development with a focus on social functions such as live streaming, and audio and video content features.”
This is the third institutional investment round completed by MPL. In November 2018, the company had raised ₹36.24 Crores ($5 Million) in a funding round led by Sequoia Capital. The startup raised another $35.5 Million in April 2019. With the latest investment, MPL’s total funding to-date has reached $130.5 Million.
Since its inception in September 2018, MPL has added over 70 games on its platform, working with over 28 game developers and studios. The portal currently has operational presence in India and Indonesia, with offices in Bengaluru, Jakarta, and Pune, and more than 300 employees. Its user base has grown to over six crore users with over 200 crore cash transactions on the app to date. In the last four months, MPL has reported a 700%+ increase in the number of games played on the platform.
Co-Founder and CEO at MPL, Sai Srinivas, outlined the company’s plans for the future, “In a short time, MPL has taken the gaming market by storm, with our various offerings and partnerships, which have helped us stand out in the industry. This latest round of funding will enable us to entertain and connect an even larger audience across India and beyond.”
Srinivas added that the online gaming industry is seeing massive and increasing engagement and this fresh capital injection is proof of MPL’s potential to lead and transform this space.