Bhutan Lottery planning to launch its own online lottery

Yeshey Lhadon

With his head almost touching the small sheet of paper on a rickety table, Ugyen is busy. The corporate employee, a commerce graduate is working on probability, a branch of mathematics that deals with quantities having random distributions.

On his Samsung mobile is an excel sheet. Ugyen will work out a number that would probably win him some money in a few hours. For the few months, Ugyen had been hit with Teer (arrow in Hindi), his latest obsession with the newest online gambling.

There are thousands, and the number is growing, Bhutanese hooked to the mobile phone–based online gambling.  This is despite the Department of Law and Order (DLO) asking people to refrain from illegal gambling. Clamping down on what players see as a harmless online gambling is difficult.

Teer originated in North East India. Teer has been around for about as long as the state of Meghalaya, which was carved out from Assam in 1972 and includes Khasi, Garo and Jaintia Hills. It is legal in Shillong from where it reached Bhutanese players.

There are about 70 to 80 unofficial groups running the Teer lottery business through social media platforms, most popularly the Chinese social networking App, WeChat. Each group has more than a hundred customers. The system works on mutual trust among the group members and the admins of the group.

How Teer is played

Customers chose a two-digit numbers from 00 to 99. Betting amount ranges from Nu 50 to Nu 1,000 or even more. The more the bet, the better the prize money. A player can win Nu 70,000 if he hits the winning number just by paying Nu 1,000 for a ticket. There’s also a chance of winning two side hits. For example, if the winning number is 25, customers who chose numbers 24 and 26 wins the side hit prize. The admins keep 15 to 20 percent of the amount collected.

The game is simple and easy to play. Administrators, commonly called as ‘admins’ share an updated excel sheet in a group whenever players pay for the booked numbers. Players transfer money digitally to admins’ account numbers.

The link for the result is shared in a group chat. They refer to, and for the result. The winning amount is deposited into a winners account through MBoB or MPay. Sometimes the administrators give out one free number to the “loyal customers.”

Given its cheap price and frequency, more and more people have started playing. There are no official records, but going by the members in a group, numbers could be in the thousands. Ugyen’s group had 141 members. He is in a dozen other groups. Some enter different groups to better their winning chances.

Some players book more than 10 numbers at one go. Some book the same number in different groups. “If we can hit the number, the prize from 10 groups will make us rich overnight,” said a player.

If an individual wins repeatedly, the admin throws them out of the group suspecting foul play. “It’s unfair for other players when one player wins a prize from all the group and makes payment at the eleventh hour,” said the admin, a woman.

To ensure fair play, none of the players are allowed to make personal bookings or contact the admin for choosing the number. Everybody has to choose it online in the group for transparency.


Winners and losers

One player said he wanted to try his luck when he saw his frends playing. “The cost was only Nu 50 and I  didn’t feel the pinch,” he said. “Now I am  hooked to it.”

One player spent Nu 21,000 in two months. “I haven’t calculated how much I have spent so far because I spend Nu 50 to Nu 100 on every draw.” However, he won more than what he had spent.

Not all are winners. A corporate employee lost almost Nu 50,000 in three months. He has stopped playing. There are many others who stopped playing after losing a few thousands.

What the law says

Section 429 of the Information Communications and Media Act of Bhutan 2018 prohibits online gambling. Bhutan Lottery has reported illegal online lottery operations to DLO. DLO has instructed the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) to implement the law.

Bhutan Lottery, a State-owned Enterprise (SoE) is the only authorised lottery operator in Bhutan. Chief Executive Officer of Bhutan Lottery, Phenphay Drukpa said that the issue is not about the competition with illegal lottery organisations but the law only allows authorised lottery operation.

Agents of the Bhutan Lottery are unhappy because online gambling hampered their business. The SOE has 60 to 70 percent sales despite illegal lottery business in full swing. Phenphay Drukpa said, “Our sale could have increased if there was no online gambling.”

Bhutan Lottery agents joined as members of some WeChat groups operating Teer lottery to report the illegal gambling. The agents have cracked the phone numbers of the admins running the illegal business through their bank details and asked RBP to deal with them as per the law. “The admins are smart. They drop the account as soon as they smell danger. Sometimes they hand over the account or they simply change their name. But they still keep making profit from such illegal practice,” said the CEO. “It’s our responsibility as a legal operator to report any individuals doing illegal business,” he said.

Officer commanding in Phuentsholing, Major Ugyen Tshewang said that the RBP have received more than 70 complaints against individuals involved in online lottery gambling. RBP has recorded 20 statements from the WeChat administrators. He said, “They are as good as nabbed. We have not taken any actions other than compiling the statement records. We are waiting for the Thimphu RBP crime branch to take action.”

Section 394 of the Penal Code grades the offence as a petty misdemeanour and section 395 states an authorised lottery is not considered gambling.

Bhutan Lottery is planning to operate an online lottery itself soon.