By Sohil Nikam Feb. 27, 2020
To anyone unfamiliar with Dream11, it isn’t just a fantasy sports game in which you can win money. It’s a mood, a thing to fight with friends over. Plus, according to a recent SC ruling, it’s completely legal!
Sitting at the bar one evening, I was indulging in my favourite evening ritual of a bit of self-loathing, when I realised that the third T-20 cricket match between New Zealand and India was about to start. As is my general routine, I picked up my phone to make some last-minute changes to my Dream11 squad, and swat away the dozens of Zomato notifications.
Just then, in between handling drunk customers and forgetting orders, one of the waiters, a fellow named Deepu, took a second out of his busy schedule to peer into my phone. He paused to dramatically put aside the trays of food he was supposed to be serving, and excitedly asked who my team captain was.
“Tum bhi khelte ho?” I asked him, showing him my team, to which Deepu didn’t respond in words, but instead whipped out his own phone. He excitedly showed me the three fantasy teams he had created, and the paid contests he had participated in fully convinced he was going to win at least ₹300.
To anyone familiar with this particular app, situations like this are not uncommon. Dream11 isn’t just a fantasy sports game. It’s a mood, a thing to fight with friends over, and dare I say it, bring them closer together. (My friends and I often hold special meetings to discuss specific rules about our private contests). To anyone unfamiliar with “Dream11”, it’s an app that allows you to create your ideal sports team — whether cricket, football, hockey, basketball or kabaddi — and use it to compete against other teams, with entry fees ranging from ₹15 to ₹9,999, and rewards to match (bigger the risk… as they say).
The dozens of match-fixing controversies that cricket has seen over the years has stigmatised the culture.
The final play is that you wait for the actual match to see whether your selected players have either killed it or embarrassed you in front of all your friends. Depending on the number of points your players earn you, you can win lakhs of rupees — but it’s mostly just around ₹500, if you’re incredibly lucky, or as is the case with me very often, nothing at all.
Now you’re probably thinking that this sounds a lot like actual betting, and a large part of this country would probably agree with you. Except the Supreme Court, in this case, which ruled in 2017 that games that require a certain amount of skill, do not amount to gambling and can hence be considered commercial activity.
The ruling came five years after Dream11 had already been operating with its pay-and-play model, and four years after it entered the market. Three states, however, namely Assam, Odisha and Telangana still consider it betting, but that isn’t stopping their residents from enjoying other similar apps.
To anyone familiar with this particular app, situations like this are not uncommon.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on what actually does constitute betting, which is effectively what gave Deepu and I something to bond over that evening, has been coming for a while. The terrible blight that was the IPL betting and spot-fixing scandal, had prompted the court to ask the Law Commission back in 2013 to study the possibility of legalising sports betting in the country.
Despite the fact that the order actually resulted in nothing, it did at least spark a conversation on the subject. In arguments in favour of legalising betting, the UK’s strong and regulated sports infrastructure is habitually made an example of, as is the fact that in 2018, even the US Supreme Court ruled that its states could start regulating sports betting.
Still, it doesn’t take much to decipher India’s hesitation to jump into this world. The dozens of match-fixing controversies that cricket has seen over the years has stigmatised the culture. So until a conclusive answer to that debate is figured out, apps like that allow users to win a bit of money while following their favourite sports — including apps like Dream11, MyTeam11, and Halaplay — continue to crop up.
Sure, the road to making sports betting legal in India is a long and winding one, but the success of Dream11 is a sign that we may be headed in that direction.
Sohil Nikam has been writing on technology for almost a decade now, and has only recently switched to freelancing. His interests are many and widely diverse, so he can always be seen struggling to find time to satiate all of them. He is the complete opposite of apolitical.