Maharashtra police official suspended after big online gaming win

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Somnath Zende seen in his police uniform at his homeIMAGE SOURCE,BBC MARATHI
Image caption,

Somnath Zende won while playing the game during a cricket world cup match between Bangladesh and England

An Indian police official has been suspended from service after he won 15m rupees ($180,310, £149,009) on a fantasy sports platform.

Somnath Zende, a police sub-inspector posted in Maharashtra state’s Pune district, won the money while playing Dream 11, an online fantasy league.

Authorities say he was suspended for breaching the police code of conduct.

Mr Zende has refuted the claim. He’s due to face a departmental inquiry.

The police department in Pune’s Pimpri Chinchwad area, under which Mr Zende works, told BBC Marathi that he was suspended for playing the game without permission and for giving media interviews in his uniform.

Mr Zende, however, said he was being treated “unfairly”.

The police official said he began playing games on Dream 11 last month. On 10 October, he won the 15m-rupee prize money after winning a game on the platform.

Dream 11 calls itself a “game of skill” and cites a 2021 Supreme Court ruling on its website to say that its platform is exempt from the country’s gambling law.

Gambling is illegal in India but some in the gaming industry argue that the practice is different from “online skill-based gaming”, where the element of skill outweighs the element of chance.

The app has popular cricketer MS Dhoni as its ambassador and has featured Bollywood actors like Aamir Khan in its promos.

It lets fans over the age of 18 play sports like cricket, hockey, football and basketball online. Users create virtual teams using names of real-life players. They then earn points based on the performances of these players in actual matches.

Mr Zende won while playing the game during a match between Bangladesh and England in the ongoing Cricket World Cup in India.

Following his win, reports say Mr Zende was seen wearing his police uniform as he gave interviews to the media.

Amold Thorat, a worker of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is also in power in Maharashtra, wrote to the chief minister and his deputy, demanding action Mr Zende for engaging in “betting”.

Mr Thorat accused Mr Zende of playing the game while on duty and called it a “dereliction of duty”.

Photos of Zende in his police uniform had gone viral online and sent the “wrong message about the state’s police force”, he said in his complaint.

Mr Zende, however, told BBC Marathi he did not play the game while on duty. He also alleged that he was not the only police official to play the game.

“Many people play this game. It’s a sport. They play for hours,” he said. “It’s not a gambling game but still I’m being punished.”

Mr Zende said he planned to use his winnings to pay off a housing loan and start fixed deposit accounts in the name of his children.

At his departmental inquiry, Mr Zende will be allowed to present his case. A senior police official said the department would decide on a future course of action after the inquiry committee submits its report.

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