Living in India offers up many pleasures. High grade curry is one of them, a hassle-free punt, however, is not. The luxury of the local, high street bookie is absent and therefore, when the All India Gaming Federation invited India Bet on a study tour of Sikkim’s capital, Gangtok, we couldn’t refuse. I had many questions; what did these new betting shops look like? Were they making any money? Who was betting in them?
The shops in question have been set up by Manoj Seth of Golden Gaming. A self made man, who began life as a lottery vendor and has since built up one of India’s largest gaming companies. Golden Gaming’s bread and butter still lies in the lottery business and they have 160 of these shops across Sikkim. These shops do not take sports bets and offer only lottery products, including a basic virtual horse racing game. Ten horses race, all with an equal chance of winning and all priced at 8/1.
The star attraction, located on Gangtok’s main high street, is the first of two genuine sports betting operations in Sikkim. The other lies an hour south of Gangtok on the border town, Rangpo. These are significantly more impressive buildings than the small lottery parlours dotted around the rest of Sikkim; it stands three stories high, offering clients roulette, baccarat, sic bo, sports betting and, in the near future, virtual sports.
Spintec have provided the casino games and whilst there are no live dealers, video streaming and two physical roulette wheels offer a strong product given the size and age of the market. Bet Radar are supplying the odds feed, although this will reportedly be changing to a feed provided by Russian operator 1xBet in the two weeks.
Broadcast from high resolution televisions, comes cricket and football, which are the only sports on which markets are currently offered. At a press conference, Golden Gaming suggested that 80% of the business it has receive so far has been on football. The reasons for this are two-fold; Sikkim and West Bengal have pioneered support for football in India and also the number of footballing events vastly outweigh the number of cricketing events.
The in-play offering is functional and I managed to have a number of unsuccessful wagers on the method of next dismissal, session runs and the event winner during a Bangladesh Premier League match. It should be noted that players are taxed 30% on any winnings over 10,000INR, however the cashiers are very good at making this known, should you wish to amend your stakes accordingly.
Despite all of this, the property was not exceptionally full. In fact, when we visited on the Friday evening there were just two customers in the entire shop. Admittedly, this was just a week after India’s recent demonetisation and as with almost all cash based retail businesses in India, the gaming industry has suffered a large decline in turnover. It does seem, however, that Golden Gaming is currently relying heavily on the local market, a tough sell given that the state has a population of just 600,000 people, of whom over 75% live in rural areas.
Understandably, it can be difficult to get a reliable figure of gaming turnover and profits from an operator facing competition. However, a short conversation with two cashiers suggested that average daily turnover is between 50,000INR to 100,000INR. The highest daily take so far has apparently been 800,000INR. These are not huge figures but will surely be getting boosted by some casino business on the first and second floors of the property.
The state of Sikkim does impose some quite hefty taxes on operators. Each year operators must pay 50,000,000INR or 10% of gross gaming profit, whichever is larger. Given the numbers offered by Golden Gaming’s cashiers, this suggests that they have a bit of a way to go before this becomes a profitable enterprise. Even across their two outlets, they would need to be making 137,000INR profit per day, solely to pay their license fees. A generous estimation that attributes parity of turnover between outlets, a 10% handle and turnover in the casino double that of sports betting still suggests Golden Gaming will currently be making just half of that. Seth is optimistic though and there are plans to open six new venues over the next two years.
The good news is that there are two foreseeable routes to success for Golden Gaming’s sports betting product. First, growth in the tourism industry and second, expansion into new states. Delta Corp has become India’s largest casino operator, primarily via its operations on the Mandovi river in Goa. Tourism to the poker rooms and casino floors there has seen Delta Corp grow to incorporate both online rummy and poker businesses across India. Goa, however, is a short train journey or flight from Maharashtra, India’s wealthiest state. Gangtok requires a full day’s travel both by car and aeroplane. Tourism is therefore limited and the demographics of travellers to Sikkim often do not overlap with gaming demographics.
Despite promises of a new airport, regulation into new states seems the more exciting option. Nagaland has recently updated its regulation and the tax revenues generated in Sikkim are making other states take the opportunity seriously. Closed door discussions are taking place with government representatives and the law commission, whilst FICCI (The Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry) has been an open advocate of gaming regulation for over five years now.
The gaming space in India is slowly evolving and whilst skill games such as Rummy and Poker continue to lead headlines, the domestic black market is dominated by sports betting and offers an enormous opportunity to punters, the government and businesses alike.