As Asia embraces casinos, India hedges it bets

Sun Jun 23, 2013 11:46pm EDT
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By Tony Munroe

PANAJI, India (Reuters) - Like many visitors to the Casino Royale Goa on a rainy Saturday night on India's western coast, Salim Budhwani said he does not gamble but also had no objection to the betting at the busy tables downstairs.

Despite socially conservative India's ambivalence about gambling, consultancy firm KPMG estimated that $60 billion was wagered in the country in 2010. Much of the gambling is illegal, but attitudes are slowly changing as more Asian countries embrace gaming as a revenue generator and tourist draw.

Legal gambling in the increasingly wealthy country of 1.2 billion is limited to state lotteries, horse races and a handful of casinos. Most gambling in India, from penny-stake games at street corners and card parties in affluent homes to wagers on cricket and underground numbers games, is illicit and goes untaxed.

"People are playing on the roadside everywhere. People are playing in their houses," said Budhwani, 33, a luggage retailer from the city of Hyderabad who had brought his family to Goa, a tourist destination and one of two Indian states with casinos.

"People are educated, they know what's at stake."

Gambling on cricket, India's most popular sport, draws hundreds of millions of dollars.

The country was transfixed last month by a scandal in which several players were accused of taking bribes from bookies, spurring calls for legalizing and regulating sports betting from the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, a powerful business lobby, and others.

Legislation proposed after the cricket scandal is aimed at making cheating in sports a crime although it does not address regulating or legalizing betting.   Continued...

Casino Royale Goa, an off-shore casino on a ship, is pictured anchored on the Mandovi river which runs through Goa's capital Panaji, June 22, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer