Niti Aayog’s draft guidelines set to boost online fantasy sports industry

Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS) on Monday said Niti Aayog’s draft guiding principles will offer the required impetus to “responsible growth” of the online fantasy sports industry in India. It will also provide equal opportunities for all operators while protecting consumer interests and curbing any possible malpractices, the federation noted. Leading players like Dream11 and Games24x7 (which runs My11Circle) welcomed the move and said it would lend the industry credibility. Harsh Jain, chief executive and co-founder of IPL sponsor, Dream11, said the move would act as a “catalyst to this sunshine sector, remove ambiguities, and ensure further credibility for our industry”.

In a draft report titled ‘Guiding Principles for the Uniform National-Level Regulation of Online Fantasy Sports Platforms in India’, Niti Aayog noted that there is a public interest in the fantasy sports industry, receiving government recognition as an industry and having its own identity.

“As India’s first and only self-regulatory industry body for fantasy sports, we have created standards of best practice and consumer grievance redressal mechanism for our member operators and fantasy sports users. These guidelines provide equal opportunities for all operators, protect consumer’s interests and curb any possible malpractices in this sector,” said Bimal Julka, chairman of the Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS).

While stakeholders have often argued that fantasy sports are legal and a game of skill, they have still faced multiple battles around legality. “Recently, some cricketers have been unfairly questioned for endorsing fantasy sports platforms. How can brand ambassadors be questioned for endorsing a game that has the validation of courts, governments, and world-class academic institutes as a game of skill?” asked Bhavin Pandya, co-founder and CEO of Games24X7, which runs My11Circle, one of the top three fantasy sports platforms in India.

As per Niti Aayog’s draft guidelines, the extant legal ambiguity and differential treatment faced by fantasy sports games across the Indian states must be addressed through the creation of a uniform national-level safe-harbor for fantasy sports games. it said, “Will enable the implementation of a single national policy on fantasy sports and bring clarity to regulators, operators and consumers alike.”

The fantasy sports industry in India has drawn foreign investments worth approximately ₹1,500 crore between 2018 and 2020, according to a July 2020 report by the FIFS. However, the legality of these businesses has still been under question, with states like Assam, Orissa and Telangana choosing to ban them within their borders. On the other hand, high courts in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan have passed landmark rulings for the platforms, terming them as games of skill. The Supreme Court is yet to make a decision on the same.

Jay Sayta, who has advised many gaming companies, said NITI Aayog’s recommendations will have persuasive value and can be used as an additional argument by these companies in courts. He also said the Centre should cover the entire gaming industry—which includes Rummy, Poker, and more—instead of covering fantasy sports alone.

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