When 22-year-old Sahil (name changed) heard about ‘Dream11’ from his friends, he perceived it as a way to earn money quickly without having to put in huge efforts. While he had aspired to become wealthy, the young man is now despondent after losing a Rs 100,000 on fantasy games.

Fantasy games are virtual games that allow users to create make-believe teams of real-life athletes from a specific sport. These virtual teams participate in the fantasy game, where the performance of the players in the virtual world is based on their real-life performances.

While Sahil began by investing as little as Rs. 35, the temptation of big money enticed him to invest significantly more. The advent of low-cost internet, inexpensive devices and hassle-free digital payments made these competitions more accessible.

While a few people made a fortune using these applications, the majority lost a huge amount of money playing fantasy games. In a country with wide income disparities and low cyber literacy, fantasy cricket has had disastrous results for many.

When Sahil joined college in 2019, he learnt about the application from a classmate who had been playing for over a year. Sahil began by participating in contests with a modest entry fee. With time, the teenager began to spend hundreds of rupees every day in an attempt to win the 'mega reward.'

Sahil makes a team in order to win the 'mega prize'

“It was the final of the Cricket World Cup. I put in Rs 35 and earned Rs 400” Sahil recalled. With a restricted amount of money as a teen, he saw it as an opportunity to “become wealthy”. He had no idea that the game was going to be the cause of his depression.

To make up for his losses, Sahil began borrowing money from friends. He continued to pour money into the app. Unfortunately, he lost everything. Sahil was in debt. He owed his friends over rupees 75,000, a significant sum for a youngster. “My friends started asking me to repay their money and threatened to alert my parents if I didn't do it on time," he said, adding that he had already lost Rs 1 lakh on the app, with minimal or no winnings at all. “I could not repay them since I had no money. As a result, I was depressed and had suicidal thoughts. I failed a semester in college. I even started smoking hashish" said Sahil.

Ahmed, 15, began playing fantasy games upon seeing his favorite cricketer endorsing the game on TV. In less than a month, Ahmed had spent around Rs 10,000 from his father's account in order to make big bucks.

Dream11 Startup Screen

“The authorities should intervene in the matter. There is no legislation that governs the use of fantasy applications. Children are glued to games like these,” complained Arshid Wani, the youngsters' father.

In India, gaming has seen a significant increase in the last two years. According to Statista, India had a gaming population of 365 million in 2020, with a predicted increase to 510 million by the end of 2022.

Rapid technical improvements, and higher internet usage to the COVID epidemic, have all contributed to this dramatic surge. In the absence of mainstream entertainment options and movement restrictions due to COVID, many turned to online gaming to pass time and “earn money from the comfort of their home”. While all sorts of gambling are prohibited in India, there are no specific rules governing fantasy gaming.

Recently, the only watchdog for fantasy games in India, The Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS), released a "User Guide To Fantasy Sports," compiled with support from social media giant Meta. The manual is aimed at creating a healthy ecosystem for responsible play on fantasy sports platforms.

In a judgment dated July 30th, 2021, the Supreme Court of India had upheld the legality of fantasy sports by stating that the issue of whether fantasy sports format amounts to gambling or betting or wagering is no longer a question to be examined. Besides, the High Courts of Rajasthan, Punjab & Haryana and the Bombay High Court have also upheld the legality of fantasy sports as being legitimate businesses entitled to protection under Article 19(1)(g) and Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

Despite the fact that the Indian judiciary has ruled overwhelmingly in favor of these games, states such as Telangana, Assam, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, and Nagaland have outright banned them.

Dream11 Payment Screen

Though, in the age of decentralized, encrypted communication, restrictions will drive platforms to the dark web. A well-thought-out and powerful regulatory structure is required. Allowing the sector to self-regulate means allowing the platforms to define the terms of the game, where only they will be the winners.

All Photographs Hassnain Riza