Located in the heart of the IT Capital of India, Bangalore Turf Club (BTC) is popular among the wealthy and the elite. For almost a century, it has been the premier destination in the city for top-class horse racing and horse racing betting.
Being situated in the centre of town, the club is easily accessible from all corners of Bangalore. Moreover restaurants, bars and shopping places are in ample supply near Bangalore Turf Club. For this reason, BTC has been a popular destination for horse racing and betting enthusiasts for the better part of a century.
However, with the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic, the turf club was forced to shut down, and although these general lockdowns have resulted in financial ruin for many physical businesses, the turf club chose to use this occasion to innovate and find new ways of serving their customers.
BTC Betting goes digital
To make up for the lack of customers and revenue during the general lockdown in India, the Bangalore Turf Club took a new and innovative approach: they started offering their services on a digital platform.
Betting on horse races is legal according to Indian federal law, as it is considered a game of skill. Some states have more rigid regulations when it comes to betting, but the state of Karnataka, where Bangalore is located, has thrown open its digital doors and authorized the Bangalore Turf Club (BTC) to organize online betting on horse races.
The Karnataka State Government issued in-principle authorization for the BTC to carry out online betting. The decision came as respite and BTC claimed that online horse race betting would naturally expand their customer base tremendously.
An increase in the BTC turnover and revenue to the government was also expected. Racing authorities in other Indian states are now expecting their local government to follow Karnataka’s lead.
Bangalore’s online betting venture faces unexpected challenges
Just as everything seemed to be going well for the Bangalore Turf Club, a public interest litigation was filed by C.Gopal a resident of Shantinagar in Bangalore.
The petitioner questioned the correctness of the government’s decision to permit the BTC to conduct online betting through a digital platform sans spectators in the race course in view of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
It has been alleged by the petitioner that the betting on horse racing, which is at present restricted to only the race course in Bangalore, will open up betting to the entire society, including rural areas, as people sitting in any location can participate in betting.
The Karnataka High Court in its order observed that the permission granted by the state government to the Bangalore Turf Club Ltd., (BTC) to conduct online betting is illegal as there is no provision in law.
Directing the state to take a clear stand on the in-principle permission, Karnataka High Court said that, on the face of it, the government does not have the power to grant permission for online betting.
Karnataka government rescinded the online betting permit it issued earlier last year to the Bangalore Turf Club (BTC) as a means of rescuing a racing season that had been laid low by Covid-19. The government advised the BTC that the permit was hereby withdrawn with immediate effect. As a result, the BTC was forced to stop the operation immediately and cancel its summer season entirely.
What lies ahead?
Betting on horse racing usually translates to thousands of people gathering in one place while shouting and jumping about. This kind of event will obviously not be possible to conduct in the near future.
A shift to online betting would really help the Bangalore Turf Club and related industries, while satisfying the public’s craving for entertainment and recreation.
Both the state government, the people and the betting operators could benefit from the government taking a more liberal approach and legalising the issuance of online betting permits in Karnataka.