Andhra Pradesh is the seventh-largest state in India, located along the Bay of Bengal on the south-eastern coast. Until the creation of Telangana in 2014, it was the fourth-largest Indian state.
The formation of Telangana is important from a gambling perspective, as it meant that Andhra Pradesh would lose the metropolitan city of Hyderabad. Along with a global IT Hub, The City of Nizams is famed for its horse racing at the Malakpet Race Club.
Horse betting is legal in Andhra Pradesh, along with lotteries and rummy, under the national laws on gambling. The state also has its own very strict anti-gambling legislation on the statutes, under the Andhra Pradesh Gaming Act of 1974.
It is pretty stringent in outlawing all other forms of gambling in the state. But as is often the case in India, the laws remain ineffective and gambling remains widespread and rampant across Andra Pradesh.
What is also quite notable is that the fines and penalties are not significantly high, especially for first-time offenders. It is only repeat-offenders who find themselves serving jail time.
The undivided state of Andhra Pradesh used to earn a significant amount in taxes from betting products such as horse racing, running into tens of thousands of dollars a year.
According to one report in the thehansindia.com, some of Hyderabad’s clubs raked as much as $17,000 per day through gambling. Andhra Pradesh is said to top the list in gambling cases with over 260,000 cases recorded between 2007 and 2012, as per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
But after the 2014 bifurcation, Hyderabad became the capital of the newly formed Telangana. Though Andhra Pradesh can use it as their capital until 2024, all the taxes and revenues will go to the new state.
Gambling in Andhra Pradesh extends to traditional sports like cockfighting, as well as card games like Teen Patti (3 Card Indian Flash). Each year, cockfights happen all over the state during the three-day Sankranti festival in January.
Despite a High Court ban on this sport for animal cruelty and related gambling activity, it continues unabated. Police records indicate that nearly 8000 cases were filed in 2019, in just four of the coastal districts in Andhra Pradesh.
So it is quite clear that outlawing gambling has created many issues in Andhra Pradesh. Gambling dens seem to exist throughout the state and people continue to indulge in traditional forms of betting like cockfighting and cards.
India’s gambling laws have many undefined, grey areas, particularly those related to online gambling. While there is central legislation on the topic, states are also free to create their own laws, which further adds to the confusion.
The main central legislation is the Public Gambling Act, 1867, a very old and outdated law from the Colonial Era. It is interesting to note that no person has been prosecuted under the archaic Public Gambling Act of 1867 for betting, though it is not necessary to prove that any individual found playing at a gaming house was playing for money, wager or stake, in order to convict the person.
Under the Act, anyone found at a gaming house shall be fined $1.50 or imprisoned for up to a month under the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860).
The state of Andhra Pradesh, as mentioned earlier, also has the Andhra Pradesh Gaming Act of 1974. The law imposes many restrictions on gambling and in most cases, prohibits the use of land-based premises for gambling with the aim of making any profits or gains. It also differentiates between games of luck (illegal) and games of skill (legal).
Other laws related to gambling in Andhra Pradesh include the Andhra Pradesh Lotteries Act, 1968, and the Andhra Pradesh Horse Racing and Betting Tax Act, 1986. They govern lotteries and horse betting in the state, which will be discussed in detail in the following sections.
For the most part, most gaming laws in India are outdated and do not cover online gaming in any comprehensive way. The same is also true about Andhra Pradesh. None of the state laws mentions online gambling.
The only law in place is the central IT Act, 2011, which requires Indian ISPs to block access to sites that offer real-money games to Indian residents. However, numerous Indians continue to enjoy playing their favorite casino and poker games online every day, including those in the state of Andhra Pradesh.
Andhra Pradesh was among the few states to take a liberal approach towards gambling and horse racing in particular. The ‘Sport of Kings’ aka horse racing has a long history in Andhra Pradesh, dating back to 1868. It flourished under the patronage of the Nizams who ruled the state in pre-Independence India.
The Hyderabad Racecourse in Malakpet run by the Hyderabad Race Club (HRC) plays host to some of the most elite races in the country. It includes the Deccan Derbies, the President of India Gold Cup, and the Invitation Cup, one of the most prestigious races in the country.
Races are held in the monsoon and run from July through October, culminating in the Deccan Derby. This race sees the top-class 3-year-olds battle it out every year. Winter races are held between November and February and include several prestigious races including the Nizam’s Gold Cup and President of India Gold Cup.
Betting on these races was very popular and widespread. After independence, this activity was under the horse racing and betting tax regulations of the Hyderabad Act, 1948. These archaic rules were updated several decades later under the advice of the High Court.
The aim was to bring horse races and betting under new tax legislation to prevent revenue leakage. This led to the creation of the 1986 Andhra Pradesh Horse Racing and Betting Tax Act, 1986, creating a strict tax regime for horse betting clubs in the state.
Betting on horse races at the Hyderabad race club takes place at tote centers, both at the Race Club and other locations. Currently, there are around 16 OCTC or Off-Course Tote Centers of the Hyderabad Race club in many cities that include Hyderabad, Secunderabad, Visakhapatnam, Kurnool, and Vijayawada, to name a few.
Now that Hyderabad is a part of Telangana, efforts are underway to make Visakhapatnam (Vizag, also known as the “City of Destiny) the new hub of horse racing in Andhra Pradesh. According to racing experts, the city has the infrastructure and weather suitable for horses to stay fit and healthy.
Tote centers have already been set up in Vizag, Guntur, Kurnool, and other cities. Currently, there are around 22 licensed horse trainers at the HRC with 729 horses under their charge. Over 50 jockeys are licensed to ride at Hyderabad while the club also has the requisite permission to conduct inter-venue betting on Delhi races.
Online gambling on horse racing remains illegal in the state although there are many loopholes. Punters can only wager on a horse race at the racecourse or at the OCTC counters.
Sports betting in India is only legal in Horse Racing, and Andhra Pradesh is no exception to this rule. The state does not allow placing bets on other popular sports like cricket, football, hockey, and tennis under the Andhra Pradesh Gaming Act of 1974.
But illegal bookmakers thrive in Andhra Pradesh, just like in the other parts of India. Cricket is the sport of choice for Indian punters, with millions of dollars changing hands during any cricket match. The glitzy IPL or Indian Premier League has become the focus of betting syndicates in recent years.
Match-fixing and betting scams have created headlines in IPL since its inception. In one infamous instance, the names of four players from the local Sun Risers Hyderabad also surfaced in the IPL matching fixing scandal. But none of those four players was finally named as accused in the charge sheet.
It is not uncommon to find news reports of bookies in Andhra Pradesh busted for accepting bets on cricket. Many of these involve big wigs where there is big money at stake. Even the common man has options to indulge in small scale betting on cricket matches in Andhra Pradesh.
Today, small kiosks called ‘paan shops’ that sell cigarettes have now become the hub for betting on cricket matches in Andhra Pradesh. The only criterion for being able to place a wager is an introduction by a regular. There are allegedly over 30 such shops in Hyderabad alone.
Overall, sports betting remains incredibly popular despite the efforts of the state and police to discourage it. This has led to many people calling for regulation of sports betting to save the face of cricket, the treasured sport of millions of Indians.
With an ever-increasing number of internet-savvy middle-class people in India with disposable cash, there is potential to earn billions of dollars in tax revenues from a state like Andhra Pradesh alone.
Any hopes of online gambling on sports like cricket were struck down with the passing of the Information Technology Act 2000 in May 2011, which covered gambling sites. ISPs were held responsible for blocking offshore betting sites although there were and are many techno legal loopholes.
Online betting on cricket and other sports remain a viable option for many residents in Andhra Pradesh. This trend is especially common among the younger, tech-savvy crowd.
Andhra Pradesh has outlawed casinos and other land-based gambling establishments. Both the national and state laws on gambling mentioned in earlier sections have stringent provisions without any grey areas.
As a result, there are no legal casinos or gambling clubs in the state as of 2020. But reports do suggest that casino culture is slowly making its way into Andhra Pradesh. The main challenge will be in getting the legislation passed to facilitate this change.
Given the success of casinos in Goa and Sikkim, many ministers view this as an opportunity to earn solid revenue for the state. In 2015, there were reports of plans to start off-shore casinos in the port city of Vizag involving the Genting Group.
In another development, the government signed an MOU with Eros Group, involving a Rs 40,000 crore project for an entertainment destination with movie studios, production facilities, theme parks, residential areas, healthcare, and leisure facilities including a casino. But the project seems to have fallen through due to the difficulty in allocating land, and other political reasons.
As of 2020, there is no development in any attempts to bring casinos to Andhra Pradesh, either offshore or on land. Instead, the high rollers in the state make do with clandestine parties at swanky bungalows and other secret locations. A Times of India report from 2019 highlights the scale of these events, with bets going as high as 1 lakh or more on a single hand of teen patti.
Andhra Pradesh started running a state-owned lottery after the passing of the Andhra Pradesh Lotteries Act, 1968. Initially, there were only one or two draws each year. But soon, the popularity of lottery exploded in the state. By the year 2006, there were over 2698 lottery draws.
The popularity of the lottery also led to social issues, with women in particular complaining against its effect on family incomes. Increasing protests forced the state government’s hand in 2007. It was decided to stop the lottery in total.
However, the creation of Telangana has led to a severe financial crisis for Andhra Pradesh. And the cash-strapped state had to start looking for new sources of income. In 2015, there were attempts to revive the state-run Bhagyalakshmi lottery, which had the potential to earn the state as much as $20 billion or more annually.
But fearing the backlash from different sections of the society, particularly women, the government has been quite careful on this issue. They are yet to take concrete steps to revive lottery in Andhra Pradesh as of 2020.
Privately-owned and operated lotteries are fully banned in Andhra Pradesh under the 1968 state law. This means that all online lotteries are automatically outlawed in the state.
In the case of Sanjay Jayantilal & Co. And … vs Government Of Andhra Pradesh, … on 15 March 1999, the Andhra Pradesh High Court ruled that the petitions were not entitled under Section 3 of the A.P. Lotteries Act to continue their business of selling lottery tickets in the State of Andhra Pradesh. The court observed that the State Government could not be compelled to violate any provision of the law.
Playwin was a popular option available in the state, but not for long. The Andhra Pradesh State Human Rights Commission directed the Chief Secretary to ban the website in the state for allegedly selling online lotteries banned in the state.
As of 2020, online lotteries are easily available to Andhra residents in spite of the ongoing ban. Many offshore lotteries are bought by players from all parts of the state, particularly the urban areas.
Andhra Pradesh is one of the few states in which poker is considered a game of skill. The Supreme Court also ruled in the case of State of Andhra Pradesh v. K. Satyanarayana and others (1968 AIR 825 1968 SCR (2) 387) that Rummy was not entirely a game of chance and required a certain amount of skill since cards had to be memorized while building up Rummy also required skills.
The court observed that Rummy was primarily a game of skill. In this case, it is worthy to note that the Supreme Court made an observation that:
“[I]f there is evidence of gambling in some way or that the owner of the house or the club is making a profit or gain from the game of Rummy or any other game played for stakes, the offence may be brought home.”
Almost 50 years on while rummy clubs thrive in the state, court cases continued to question the settled issue. For instance, the Andhra Pradesh High Court had ruled in two cases, D Krishna Kumar v. State of Andhra Pradesh (2002) and Cinema Cultural Centre, Jubilee Hills v. Commissioner of Police (2002), that playing rummy for real money stakes is not illegal in the state.
But in other cases, like the one involving Chiraan Fort Club, the court ruled in favour of the police for shutting the club down. The court’s decision was based on a matter of whether rummy could be played for stakes. As this issue was pending before the Supreme Court, the judge observed that the issue of legality needs to be examined in detail.
In 2015, the Indian Supreme Court finally settled in favour of rummy as a game of skill, reaffirming the principle laid down decades ago. But clubs can still be prosecuted if they host high-stakes games of rummy. This means that while rummy is legal in Andhra Pradesh, clubs that host high stakes games face legal action from police if discovered.
Online rummy, poker, and other card games are not adequately addressed in any Indian law or the Andhra state laws. In fact, Sikkim is the only state to have taken the first step towards the legalization of online gambling. For the most part, there is no conclusive decision yet on the legality of online poker in the state of Andhra Pradesh.
The liability of running online poker rooms are solely dependent on the Gaming Acts. In the absence of a specific law, it is not likely that online poker fans in Andhra Pradesh, as like other states, will be penalized. So far, the only possibility is an order to block IP addresses.
The status quo continues into 2020, as neither the Indian government, nor the Supreme Court has arrived at a definite decision regarding the legal status of poker, and other online games. As of now, these remain strictly a grey area, and players from Andhra Pradesh can place bets online with relative safety.