IPL 2021: Fantasy Cricket Transactions Soar - Why NPCI Is Wary

With fantasy cricket operators allowing 'bets' for as little as Rs 1, the UPI payment system, developed by National Payments Corporation of India, is apparently facing challenges

IPL 2021: Fantasy Cricket Transactions Soar - Why NPCI Is Wary

"This is to inform you all that (National Payments Corporation of India) NPCI will block all UPI transactions of INR 50 and less for all gaming merchants. The timeline for the same is unknown yet but from some resources we have heard that it might be done in next 24 hrs. We request you to be prepared with this and let us know if Paytm can help you in anyway." (More Cricket News)

This internal message accessed by Outlook on Wednesday evening has made it evidently clear that NPCI is not amused by the humongous increase in people using the United Payments Interface (UPI) to play fantasy cricket during the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021 championship.

Indian cricket and online gaming operators are inseparable partners. Companies like Dream11, MPL and My11Circle are heavily associated with fantasy cricket operations and spend huge sums of money to promote their brands during major cricket events like the IPL. Paytm, which also has a fantasy sports wing, is a major BCCI partner.

Industry sources say that NPCI has seen an "unusual" growth in the number of transactions people are making on IPL.

Operators like My11Circle are allowing 'bets' for as little as Rs 1. A well known Bollywood star is promoting this fantasy game where one can become a millionaire by waging as little as Rs 1.

Dream11, which became title sponsors of IPL 2020, has apparently booked more than 60 per cent media space on TV and digitally. Almost every top Indian cricketer, including MS Dhoni and Rohit Sharma, are associated with Dream11.

Whether NPCI wants to curb 'gambling' or trying to protect their UPI interface from crashing is not very clear. It's Managing Director/CEO Dilip Asbe refused to comment on the issue. He did not deny that NPCI was mulling some sort of crackdown.

Fantasy sports remains in the realm of 'gambling' and 'betting'. Although operators and promoters see this as a game of skill, the law is not absolutely clear. There are cases pending in the Supreme Court with a large section asking the government to ban online gaming that involves stakes.

The government has also been dragging its feet. The Niti Aayog, which in recent times looked very gung-ho on promoting fantasy sports, has developed cold feet.

Several states like Andhra and Telangana have already banned online rummy that has ruined families. More states are mulling similar bans.

Ironically, top cricketers and celebrities are randomly promoting online gaming without knowing the consequences. One of them is also promoting an off-shore betting site that is illegal in India.

Online gaming business is estimated to touch USD 1 billion this year. A major chunk of revenue for fantasy operators come from tournaments like IPL and short-format World Cups.

Most fantasy operators, especially those born in the last couple of years, have subscribers in millions that uses the UPI channel.

"If the minimum amount becomes Rs 50, then there will be a fall in the number of players/transactions," said an industry source, adding how it will impact business is still not clear.

Paytm, which offers similar facilities like UPI, clearly wants to take advantage of the opportunity.