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June 13, 2008

India's booming "Sin Economy"

Businessworld has a cover story on how "as Indians lap up more of vice products, profiteers and investors are readying to lick up the spoils of the new consumption patterns".

The most popular vice, however, is gambling, which is also illegal. Still, unlawful betting in the IPL cricket season is averaging $100 million per match. On match days, youngsters, pot-bellied traders and Page-3 regulars can be spotted in coffee shops, restaurants and even the stadiums, glued to cellphones, haggling hard with bookies. Betting on horse races and lotteries is subject to state laws. Indians are buying over 30 million lotteries a day. The market is valued at Rs 50,000 crore. “The market can grow manifold, provided the government rationalises its lottery policy, legalises gambling and betting, and opens the market to foreign investors,” says Kamlesh Vijay, CEO of Sugal & Damani (S&D) Lotteries. The Rs 6,000-crore, travel-to-jewellery company has been selling lotteries for the past three decades. Earlier this year, it bid for UK’s national lottery, proposing ticket sales of £63.9 billion over 10 years. The evaluators declared it the reserved bidder. That has brought returns-hungry investors to its doors and its competitors’. “Some of the largest US private equity funds have approached us, however, the laws disallow FDI in lotteries,” says Vijay. S&D’s profits grew 60 per cent last year.

Another success story is Zee-promoter Subash Chandra’s lottery venture — the media moghul’s biggest business now. Last year, his lottery brand Playwin turned in Rs 2,400 crore, towering over his media (Rs 1,500 crore), packaging (Rs 1,000 crore), and the entertainment and real estate businesses.

...Corporate India’s gambling ambitions include India’s answer to Vegas. Hotel Leelaventure and Playwin have bagged licences to own and run live casinos in Goa, home to the country’s sole casino, with live roulette. Owned by Advani Hotels, Goa Casino attracts 17,500 dedicated casino-goers a year. Big corporate groups including real estate giant DLF are also awaiting Sikkim’s decision on bids for five-star casinos.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of information and networking services to the private equity and venture capital ecosystem in India. View free samples of Venture Intelligence newsletters and reports.