Sports Betting Online in Sri Lanka

sri lankaIn Sri Lanka, we have a long history with gambling. This is especially true for horse racing which began here in the 1840’s. In 1922 Colombo Racecourse was the first place in the East to install a Tote Board (totalisator). In our first decades after achieving independence the gambling laws changed frequently. Betting on horses and greyhound races were legal grey areas. In the 1990s turf agents began offering cricket, football, volleyball, rugby and tennis betting too. At the time, this was near entirely unregulated.

Today the betting industry of Sri Lanka is regulated and has rapidly matured. The good news for punters is that only the bookmakers have laws to follow and taxes to pay. For us gamblers, we make our wagers tax-free and all betting is fully legal. This has been true since gambling was legalized in November 2010.

In this article I write about our legal frame work, our industry’s rich history and specific types of bets. Throughout this article I repeatedly mention the benefits of using online bookies, so to start with, I’ll begin by explaining a little bit about online betting in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan Betting Sites

There are currently no online betting sites that support Sri Lankan Rupees (LKR) currency. Instead I recommend using US$ as your account currency. Likewise, none support our two most spoken languages Tamil and Sinhala, so you must have a good understanding of English in order to use the sites.

While the majority of our population of nearly 21 million engages in some form of gambling, this year it is estimated that less than 4 million of us will engage in any form of personal internet usage. Until internet penetration increases and Parliament passes amendments to regulate online gambling, our only option is to use foreign online betting sites.

With some 2,000 turf agents and betting centres in our country one might wonder – why bother using foreign bookmakers?

If you read this article in full you’ll discover there are in fact many reasons. A quick one for starters is bonus offers. If you open an account at www.bet365.com in United States dollar (USD) your initial deposit will be matched 100% up to $200 (about Rs. 26,640 in LKR) as a cash bonus.

The foreign websites that I recommend most are:

  • Rank
  • Site
  • Deposit Method
  • Bonus
  • Visit Site

Deposits and Payouts

To use the websites above a deposit is required; online bookies do not give players credit.

If you open an account at Bet365 your account will of course start off with a balance of $0. If you send them a Rs. 15,000 deposit, this money is added to your account balance. You can then use this money to bet on cricket, football, horse racing, greyhounds or any other sport you like.

For example, if you bet Rs. 5,000 that Sri Lanka will win a 20-20 match against India, this is deducted from your balance, leaving you with Rs. 10,000 in your account. If Sri Lanka wins that match – the Rs. 5,000 stake is returned to your account and the winnings are added too. At any time you can cash out all or part of your winnings. To do so you need a banking method.

There are several banking methods Sri Lanka residents can use to deposit and withdraw. The most popular are Skrill (previously called Moneybookers), Neteller and EntroPay. Of these, Skrill is my preferred option as it functions just like an online bank account and comes with an ATM card you can use to withdraw your winnings.

To explain in brief: open an account at www.skrill.com selecting United States dollar USD as the currency. You then need to deposit money to your Skrill account. I prefer to use bank wires, but you may be able to use your debit card or credit card to add funds to your Skrill account. If you wire money in Rupees, when the money arrives at Skrill, they will convert it into US dollars.

Once your Skrill account is funded you can use it to deposit money to any of the betting sites listed earlier. You can also use it to withdraw your balance.

Money can be taken out of Skrill by bank wire, by requesting a paper check or by ordering a free Skrill MasterCard debit card. This debit card can be used at any local ATM machine both in Sri Lanka and overseas. It can also be used for online purchases.

Sri Lanka Bookmakers

For those who prefer betting in person, there are betting shops all over our country. The most popular chain is the Sporting Times which has a racing publication by the same name. In business since the 1950s, they have over 200 shops nationwide, over 50 of which are in our capital. This is owned by the Balasuriya family. They accept bets on horse and greyhound races as well as cricket and football matches. The next most popular is the Sumathipala family owned Sporting Star which also has its own racing publication. Both these brands telecast UK horse races from their betting centres.

Sporting Times and Sporting Star are most popular but there are other shops too. With over 2,000 licensed turf accountants we have no shortage of options. There are many standalone shops, smaller chains and agents. Again, these have all been fully legal since November 2010.

Sri Lanka Gambling Law

The betting laws of Sri Lanka are contained in many documents. The most noteworthy are as follows:

Legislative Enactments of Sri Lanka:

As well as:

  • Betting and Gaming Levy Act No 40 of 1988
  • Betting Gamming Levy Gazette 1988 May 6 (Sinhalese)
  • Betting and Gaming Levy (Amendment) 7 of 2001
  • Finance Act 11 of 2002
  • Betting and Gaming Levy (Amendment) 23 of 2003
  • Betting and Gaming Levy (Amendment) 9 of 2005
  • Betting and Gaming Levy 14 of 2006
  • Betting and Gaming Levy (Amendment) 14 of 2006
  • Betting and Gaming Levy Bill 2013(E)

Most of the above documents can be found here except for the most recent which I discuss momentarily.

While this is a lot of reading it can be summed up pretty simply:

Although our nation has a rich gambling and sporting history, much of the current regulation and structure is rather new. Only in May 2009, did the civil war that for over 27-years caused great hardship for our population, environment and economy come to an end. Since then we are in a rapid state of redevelopment. Tax and levies paid by bookmakers (and Sri Lanka Casinos) contributes greatly to that objective.

Requiring bookmakers to obtain licenses began in November 2010. This involves an application and approval process and levy which is determined by the business activity. For examples:

(i) Betting Business Employing/Utilizing Agents – Rs. 2 million
(ii) Per Location with use of Live Telecast – Rs. 200,000
(iii) Per Location without use of Live Telecast – Rs. 25,000

Prior to licensing requirements turf accountants were unregulated. The major chains however kept good books and paid tax at the normal income tax rate. As they were among the highest tax payers in our country the authorities mostly turned a blind eye during periods of our history when betting was illegal.

When the new licensing fees were first implemented bookmakers also owed normal income tax too. However the Betting and Gaming Levy Act (No. 40 of 1988) was modified on 20 April 2013 via the Betting and Gaming Levy (Amendment) Act (No. 19 of 2013). This exempts those with over Rs. 1 million (LKR) in monthly collection from VAT and NBT. It however requires them to pay a lesser tax. This is set at 5% of gross collection.

Any bookmaker operating unlicensed risks consequences if caught. The Betting and Gaming Levy Act now sets the penalty at a fine up to Rs. 10 million (LKR) and/or up to six-months imprisonment.

It is worth mentioning that betting is tax free for players. Section 9 of the Betting on Horse Racing Ordinance stipulates that tax can be charged only for on-course bets. With this provision in place, the Attorney General has ruled that Provincial Councils have no authority to oppose tax on the off-course bets – as per the 13th Amendment of our Constitution.

With these laws now covered I conclude this article with discussions on our two most popular sports – cricket and horse racing.

Cricket Betting in Sri Lanka

There is no team sport more popular for betting in Sri Lanka than cricket. Our country then known as Ceylon began competing in first-class matches in 1926. We were however underdogs in most competitions for nearly 7 decades. It wasn’t until our surprise victory in the 1996 Cricket World Cup that we emerged as one of the top cricket nations. Our national team proved this was no fluke. They went on to with the ICC Champions Trophy in 2002, and were runners up at the 2007 and 2011 Cricket World Cup and 2013 ICC Champions Trophy.

It recently appeared our domestic cricket was destined to gain a world following. The T20 competition Sri Lanka Premier League (SLPL) debuted in 2012 and in its first season all the top UK bookmakers offered betting odds. The league also profited Rs. 289 million. It came as a great shock that just before it was set to begin, the 2013 SLPL Season was cancelled in July 2013.

At the current time, no Sri Lanka domestic cricket betting is offered by Sporting Times, other betting shops or online betting sites. For One Day Internationals, Test and major tournaments our national team plays in, there are plenty of betting opportunities. Also all the websites mentioned earlier offer betting on Indian Premier League (IPL) as well as all English and Australian domestic competitions.

Horse Racing in Sri Lanka

As mentioned the history of Sri Lanka horse racing is both long and colourful. It started in hill-side settlements in the late 1840s and was introduced to Colombo about a decade later. Originally races where held on Galle Face Green. After Ceylon Turf Club formed (1861) a turf track opened in what was then a suburb of Cinnamon Gardens. On 22 June 1893 Colombo Racecourse opened and is where history was made. In 1922 this was one of the first locations in the East to add a tote board.

As the article I linked to covers, in 1942 this racecourse became an important part of World War II history. Racing however resumed but it ended in 1956 when the sport was banned as immoral. This is when the start of Sri Lanka’s passion for UK horse racing began.

Following the 1956 ban of Sri Lanka horse racing, agents began emerging throughout the country. They would offer tip sheets on UK horse races and the ability to bet with the official UK tote. This is when the Balasuriya family first entered the business. By the late 1980’s Rohan Balasuriya had built the business his father started into the largest betting brand in Sri Lanka. This is of course Sporting Times which has the most distributed publication, and 50 betting centres in Colombo alone that telecast races and various sports matches.

Although our turf accountants offer great discounts on horse racing, it is very difficult to beat the value Bet365 offers. For starters: they offer a best odds guarantee. If you bet a board price or early price and the selection wins at higher odds you’ll be paid this higher payout. They also offer many free bets. Twice a day there are featured races where if you back a horse to win a 4/1 or greater you get a free bet of the same value (50 GBP maximum) on the very next featured race. They have the same offer available on 8 races per day that are shown on UK channel 4 (schedule appears on their website). Similar offers are available for greyhounds too and these are only some of the many racing promotions.

Remember no matter which option you choose, both live betting and online betting with foreign sources are fully legal. There are also no special taxes owed on winnings.