Ducking court blow, Gangtok retailers play to win

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  • Published 11.07.03

Gangtok, July 11: Sikkim High Court may have ordered the closure of Playwin, the country’s first online lottery, but for the retailers, it’s business as usual.

Most retailers said they were not aware of the court’s directive even 10 days after it was issued. Others appeared too busy making a fast buck to care anyway.

“Time is fast running out for us. We should make hay while the sun shines,” a retailer, who was “aware” of the ruling, said.

In its ruling on June 26, the high court asked Playwin to close operations in the state by August-end.

It was a crushing blow for Playwin, already reeling from a sharp drop in its sales because of the rising competition in the lottery market.

The state directorate of lotteries had appointed Playwin Infravest, a subsidiary of the Mumbai-based Essel group belonging to the Zee network, as marketing agent for the lottery in July 2001. The appointment had come after an open tender was won by Tashi Delek Gaming Solutions Private Limited, which later appointed Playwin as their subagent.

The lottery was launched in the state with fanfare in March 2002. It caught on not just in Sikkim, but all over the country.

Under a seven-year contract with Playwin, the Sikkim government was to get a revenue of Rs 780 crore. Chief minister Pawan Chamling said the money generated would be spent on education, health and poverty alleviation programmes.

Officials said the government had so far netted around Rs 70 crore from the online lottery.

Disposing of a case filed by two local residents and the Mumbai-based Modi Entertainment Network Ltd against the tender, acting chief justice N. Surjya Mani Singh struck down the selection of Tashi Delek Gaming Solutions Private Limited, saying the government tender was “not just and fair”.

In the ruling, the court said it found out after hearing all sides involved in the case that the government had not followed the rules while inviting the tender.

The court told the government to float fresh tender following “rules, norms and procedures.” It said the bidding companies should be given “sufficient time to purchase the tender forms.”

It suggested that the successful bidder of the “properly-held” tenders be made the marketing agent this time. It asked the Chamling government to publish the tender notice in at least two major national dailies.

Modi Entertainment, in its writ petition, had complained that they had not been given enough time to fill in the tender forms. It said it had got barely two days to collect and fill in the tender form and submit it to the government after the tender notice was published in Delhi and Calcutta editions of an English daily on July 12, 2001.

The high court order notwithstanding, Playwin outlets remain as busy as ever, selling the tickets to droves of customers who want to get rich quick.

For Mohammed Iqbal Bhutia of the Green Hotel, who learnt of the court order a few days ago, little has changed. “We have one-a-half-months left before the court order takes effect. We are trying to make as much as we can in this period before we shut down,” he said.

For retailers like Bhutia, the order did not make much difference as they had other business to run. When told of the court order, a few outlets on M.G. Marg, the capital’s business district, expressed unhappiness. “The company should have informed us. We had absolutely no idea,” said a retailer.