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Important to Distinguish Between Fantasy Sports and Online Games, say Industry Experts

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IndiaTech.Org (TSIA), a non-profit organization focused on building the world’s largest internet commerce ecosystem, recently organized a session to discuss the impact of NITI Aayog guidelines on the Indian Fantasy Sports industry. As a part of the session, leading stalwarts from the industry including Mr. Rameesh Kailasam, CEO, IndiaTech, Ms. Shwetasree Majumdar, Fidus Law Chambers and Mr. Bimal Julka, Chairman, FIFS recognized Fantasy Sports as a great sports engagement platform distinguishing it from online gaming.

The panellists interpreted the draft guidelines and discussed the need to promote self-regulation in order to ensure transparency, accountability and help bring clarity to the Fantasy Sports industry. They believe that, as fantasy sports are predominantly skill-based sports engagement platforms, this move will help differentiate fantasy sports from games of questionable legality in the guise of fantasy sports and create a safe-harbour with defined parameters and mechanisms. The panellists at the session additionally stressed upon the contribution of Fantasy Sports towards the Indian economy highlighting how the industry is expected to contribute INR 13,500 Crores in taxes to the Indian government in the next 5 years and create additional 12,000 jobs in the next few years.

Recognizing the immense potential that the OFS industry holds, Mr. Rameesh Kailasam said, “This endeavour by NITI Aayog is a welcome step in the direction of moving towards regulatory clarity for the Online Fantasy Sports sector. Such an effort would enable both the Centre and States to work in the direction of enabling this sunrise sector which is currently dependent on various court judgements for legitimacy to distinguish itself. With the absence of specific regulation, lack of policy clarity and discretionary interpretations by various State-wise regulatory regimes, the Online Fantasy Sports sector despite being acknowledged as a sunrise sector that engages with sports fans and enthusiasts suffers due to being misunderstood with many other forms of online games that are different. India also has a huge potential of creating more startups in this space that can take on the world.”

Talking about the legal status of fantasy sports, Ms. Shwetasree Majumdar, Managing Partner, Fidus Law Chambers said, “It is encouraging to see NITI Aayog lay emphasis on how fantasy sports should emulate real-world sports. Providing a distinct identity to Fantasy Sports will go a long way in gaining the consumers’ trust and ensuring that all OFS platforms function responsibly and remain compliant with the prescribed format. I believe, it is time that we see a necessary shift away from viewing fantasy sports as an exception to betting and gambling, to eliminate the extant ambiguity that the operators encounter at the state level.”

Talking about contribution of fantasy sports towards sports, Mr.Bimal Julka, Chairman, Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports, said, “The emergence of multiple sports and leagues coupled with rapid improvement in digital infrastructure is witnessing many sports tech innovations. Fantasy sports has emerged as one such innovative tool of engagement that has grown exponentially in the past few years. Fantasy sports has the potential to grow sports in India both – depth and breadth. OFS operators are partnering with not only international tournaments but also at the domestic level. Currently, OFS operators are hosting fantasy sports tournaments for over 10 sports that not only include mainstream sports like Cricket and Football but also upcoming sports like Kabaddi, Volleyball, Handball, Baseball and so on. India has become the largest fantasy sports industry in the world, surpassing the U.S.”

The format of fantasy sports is skill-intensive and non-addictive in nature and has constantly provided an opportunity for newer sports to become popular in the country among sports fans. The formalisation of these Guiding Principles will allow for the much-needed progressive reforms to take place and ensure that the OFS industry is well placed to grow responsibly and safeguard the user experience. IndiaTech in September 2020 had also authored and released a whitepaper on Online Fantasy Sports and the various facets attached to it.

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