New Delhi: In the cliche-ridden world of cricket commentary, “glorious uncertainty” is a term of choice. While it may describe the sudden twists and turns in the game, lawyers here say that the very uncertainty associated with the game could make the Indian Premier League’s (IPL) new SMS game 6UP an exercise in gambling.
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And that’s bad news in a country where all gambling is banned, state-sponsored (such as the lotteries), or heavily regulated (such as the casinos in some parts of the country).
The game, targeted largely at television viewers, requires participants to short message details of how many runs are likely to be scored in the following over. And even as its legality remains a grey area, India’s sports minister M.S. Gill has termed it “betting”.
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The response to the game, which offers a minimum prize of Rs10,000 for someone who can guess the sequence in which runs will be scored off the six balls of an over, couldn’t immediately be ascertained. Participants pay Rs5 for the SMS, the par for such contests, and some of this revenue goes to IPL through a revenue share agreement with telcos. The game is powered by iPlayUP, an Australian mobile business generation company.
At the core of the debate whether the game constitutes gambling is the question of whether it takes skill to predict the scoring sequence in the following over, or luck.
The jury is divided on that one.
Saikrishna Rajagopal, lawyer and partner at Saikrishna and Associates, says that Indian courts have laid down a “simple test” to check whether a game amounts to gambling: You have to determine whether a game is one of skill or chance. If a game involves only chance, it is illegal.
Horse racing, for instance, has been held by the Supreme Court to be a game of skill. Rajagopal says 6UP is purely a game of chance.
Gill himself was more scathing. In a statement, he described the SMS game as something that “openly encourages gambling and betting, which official bodies do not resort to, even in countries where betting is legal—all this to make money and enlarge their TV viewership base.”
Executives at IPL couldn’t be reached and calls to their mobile phones remained unanswered.
IPL may get some respite from legal opinion that runs counter to Rajagopal’s, and considers the game a “grey area” in terms of whether it is gambling or not.
“Looking at it on the other side, you can say the game requires a participation of skill considering the viewer knows the precise situation of the match, who the batsmen and bowler are and what their past encounters have been or whether the batting team needs a boundary to win. This question will have to be put to test in the court of law,” said Rodney D. Ryder, partner at Kochhar and Co.
Rajagopal isn’t convinced: “You would look at factors like the pitch, toss, domain and weather conditions, players skills and strengths and weaknesses.” But guessing the runs per over is “purely in the realm of betting”.
That debate may have to be settled in court. Ryder, however, said the debate over 6UP could clarify India’s laws on gambling and set precedents.
“Our laws relating to gambling are traditional and conservative. The Indian Penal Code goes back to 1860 and the Public Gambling Act to 1867. There is also the social element that breadwinners should not gamble away resources of the family. Another aspect is that gambling is a state monopoly with the regulation of activities like lotteries.”
The debate over 6UP could have implications for other gambling-related businesses in India such as casinos, added Ryder.
Priyanka Mehra contributed to this story.