Focus is on raising job creation and taxation revenues
Four decades after becoming the first state in the country to legalise Shillong Teer, a form of lottery based on archery, Meghalaya became the third state in India’s northeast to legalise gambling and betting, following the steps of Sikkim and Nagaland. The focus of the Meghalaya state government is to use gambling to boost tourism, raise tax revenues and create new job opportunities.
The move to allow licensing of land- and cyber-based gambling and betting, ranging from real money online roulette to offline sports betting, started with the adoption of a Gaming Act in the beginning of 2021 to replace the old Meghalaya Prevention of Gambling Act, 1970. Later, in December, the state government notified Meghalaya Regulation of Gaming Rules, 2021.
“As we have seen in many states, this venture has positive impacts not just in terms of GST revenues but also in terms of generating a lot of employment opportunities from the vibrant tourism industry,” said Meghalaya Law and Taxation Minister James P K Sangma.
Previously, with the adoption of the Meghalaya Lottery Rules, 2019, the state became one of the first to allow both paper and online lottery in India, accepting participants from states in the whole country where lottery is not banned.
Opposition to legalisation voiced
Several organizations, including newly established political party Voice of the People and the Meghalaya United Christian Forum (MUCF), voiced their concerns that legalized gambling and betting will have a detrimental effect on the lives of young and vulnerable citizens of Meghalaya and their families of all communities and beliefs.
“The aim of the state government to open casinos in the state and make the state famous for its gambling cannot be accepted as we all know the Meghalaya people have never accepted such games of chance,” said Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit, former Meghalaya MLA and leader of the new Voice of the People party.
“Online gambling and casinos might generate a lot of revenue for the government but the bigger question is whether people are willing to pay the price and are they ready to bear the repercussions of such an endeavour on the society at large,” said MUCF Secretary Synsharlang Kharshiing.
“The leaders and the government functionaries of the state should deeply introspect before jumping head on with excitement without considering the destruction it may cause to the present and future generations,” Kharshiing added.
Just like in Goa, gambling and betting in Meghalaya will be reserved for tourists only
In an attempt to answer the concerns voiced around the legalization of gambling and betting, and still boost the state economy, the government of Meghalaya announced that it will deny access to local citizens to these forms of entertainment, reserving them only for tourists and visitors to the state. The move is not unique, as the state of Goa adopted a similar approach after long years of postponement.
“The government will accordingly issue licenses to operate games of skill and chance, both online and offline. But the legalized gambling and gaming will only be for tourists and not residents of Meghalaya,” said Taxation Minister Sangma.
The western coastal state of Goa adopted legislation to ban locals from the land- and water-based casinos operating there first in August 2012, but the restriction was not notified until 8 years later. The ban on Goans to enter gambling establishments in their own state came into force on February 1, 2020 after a long delay.
Reportedly, anywhere between 50 and 80 percent of all visitors to Goa’s dozen land-based casinos were local residents before the ban became effective. Only the six offshore casinos based on ships had a predominant share of 70 percent of tourist clients. This shows that the decision to bar entry to locals was economically unsustainable and was based on political concerns, like the recent similar decision in Meghalaya.
Meghalaya Locals Still Have Some Gaming Options Left
Regardless of the political climate, besides classic paper-ticket and online lottery, residents of Meghalaya will still have the legal option to bet on Shillong Teer, also known as Thoh Tim or Siat Khnam, with two daily rounds of results with the exception of Sundays.
Teer is a lottery based on the sport of archery where bettors try to guess the last two digits of the number of arrows that hit the target. Tickets are priced around ?300 and winners receive a price of around ?8,000.