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The New Target for Online Sports Betting in South Asia: Archery

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Payment alerts start buzzing on Bankur Goswami’s phone every day at 3 p.m. These alerts represent money transfers for betting on teer, an archery game popular in the northeastern state of Meghalaya, India. Goswami, who has been in the business for over 25 years, is one of approximately 5,000 licensed teer bookies in Meghalaya.

How it all started

Teer betting originated in the early 20th century, although archery has been a longstanding tradition among the Khasi people of Meghalaya. The game involves a group of archers shooting arrows at stacks of straw. It takes place every evening at the Polo Ground near Goswami’s betting counter. One way to place bets is by selecting a two-digit number that corresponds to the last two digits of the total number of arrows that hit the stacks. For example, if someone bets on the number 47 and the archer lands 247 arrows, they win the bet.

Until 2021, Goswami only accepted over-the-counter cash bets at his shop in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, with clients limited to the state. However, he now accepts bets from teer fans in neighboring states such as Assam, Tripura, Manipur, and even countries like Bangladesh and Bhutan.

Rajesh Kedia, who operates a teer counter in Shillong, reminisces about the days when knowing the scores required someone stationed at the game. “Back in the 90s, every teer counter would have someone posted on the grounds to see the archery game live,” he recalls. “Immediately after the game, they would call on the landline to tell the numbers.” While cellphones simplified the process, Kedia notes that nowadays most people watch the livestreaming of the game.

Shifting to online mode

The shift to online betting was prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the 2020 lockdowns, teer counters were closed for months, resulting in estimated losses of 40 crore rupees ($4.8 million) for Meghalaya. To mitigate the financial impact, the state’s government permitted the resumption of non-contact sports in 2021. The Khasi Hills Archery Sports Institute, the teer regulatory body, decided to livestream the game, making it possible to place bets from anywhere through online streaming and digital payments.

The Khasi Hills Archery Sports Institute now has over 163,000 subscribers on YouTube, with over 30,000 average daily views for live broadcasts. Other channels and apps also stream the game, release scores, and provide betting tips. According to Philip Gene Khongsngi, the institute’s president, 75% of the viewership on the teer YouTube channels comes from outside Meghalaya. Online betting has boosted the earnings of teer counters, with each shop earning a minimum of 2,000 rupees ($24) per day.

Vishal Deb, who operates a teer-betting counter in a busy area of Shillong, experiences a significant increase in bets through online channels such as Facebook and WhatsApp. While he receives around 1,000 people in person to place bets each day, he books around 3,000-4,000 bets online. Deb’s earnings from offline bets are approximately 100,000 rupees ($1,219) per day, while online earnings can reach 200,000 rupees ($2,437).

The Challenges

Running a teer-betting business online does present challenges. Meghalaya has faced several internet shutdowns in recent years, which can result in losses of up to 50,000-100,000 rupees ($609-$1,218) in a single day. Additionally, there is a higher risk of bettors falling victim to scams online. Some bookies create groups and channels on platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram, enticing bettors with popular numbers before the game. However, these numbers are often manipulated, leading to financial losses for unsuspecting participants.

While most forms of sports betting are illegal in India, teer is an exception due to a specific gambling law in Meghalaya. The cultural value of teer in the state played a role in its legalization. Teer betting provides employment to 10,000-15,000 people and generates substantial revenue for the state. Jay Sayta, a tech and gaming industry lawyer, believes that legalizing the betting sector could bring in more revenue, employment opportunities, and support the digital and tech industry. However, concerns about financial losses, addiction, and health-related issues need to be considered before legalization.

The Cultural significance

For many teer bettors, the game represents more than just gambling. It holds cultural significance and serves as a way to preserve their heritage. Despite the challenges faced, teer continues to thrive and maintain its popularity in the state of Meghalaya.

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