Why ‘lottery king’ Santiago Martin gave Rs 149 cr electoral bonds to YSRCP

While 13 states in India, including West Bengal, allows the lottery business, Andhra Pradesh where YSRCP is the ruling party, has a ban on lottery.
Why ‘lottery king’ Santiago Martin gave Rs 149 cr electoral bonds to YSRCP
Why ‘lottery king’ Santiago Martin gave Rs 149 cr electoral bonds to YSRCP

The lottery business is legal in West Bengal, so it explains why lottery giant Santiago Martin's company donated over Rs 500 crore to the Trinamool Congress. But why did Martin’s Future Gaming and Hotel Services Pvt Limited donate to parties ruling in states where the lottery is banned such as Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu? 

In Andhra, around the time the company donated Rs 149 crore to the ruling party YSRCP, the Jagan Mohan Reddy government set up a committee to consider lifting the ban on lotteries and casinos in the state.

The company gave the first batch of bonds to YSRCP, worth Rs 89 crore,  on 27, October 2020 and the next batch worth Rs 60 crore on April 7, 2021. 

The timing of the donations might hold the clue to the company's motivations. A source who worked with the Andhra government and is familiar with the matter confirmed that in 2020-’21 a two-member committee was formed to look at the feasibility of allowing state-run lottery and casinos. 

The move came just after the Covid-19 lockdown placed a financial burden on the already cash-strapped state. “The GST regime and the lockdown made it very difficult to raise funds in Andhra,” the person said. “The state increased liquor prices by over 70% during the lockdown but it did not help us meet the shortfall. So the possibility of allowing lotteries and casinos was explored.” 

A committee was formed under Sajjala Ramakrishna Reddy, an advisor to the Andhra Government and a long-time close associate of CM Jagan Mohan Reddy. The committee looked at how the lottery system works in the 13 states where it is legal in India. “We closely studied the Kerala model and came to the conclusion that if Andhra starts a similar government-run lottery system, there can be an additional income of Rs 7,000-Rs 8,000 crore,” another person familiar with the matter said. 

Simultaneously, the committee looked into the option of permitting casinos off the coast of Visakhapatnam. After researching how Goa allows casinos to operate on the Mandovi river, the state considered the possibility of granting licences to casinos to operate off the Vizag coast, up to 10 nautical miles into the Indian territorial waters. This could help the government generate an additional Rs 11,000 crore per annum, the committee calculated. The state government had reached out to the Union government to seek their opinion on the matter. 

The committee began its deliberations in 2020 and submitted its report by mid 2021, the person who worked with the Andhra government confirmed. But the report concluded that allowing state-run casinos and lottery will dent the image of the ruling party and CM Jagan could face a massive backlash, especially from women voters. The proposal was dropped but the money wasn't.

Three other sources who have worked closely with the government however said that the donation could also have been arranged by a third party who was close to Jagan and Santiago, none had proof of the same.

Largesse to Trinamool

Of the total Rs 1,609 crore contributions to the TMC, which is in power in West Bengal, Future Gaming accounted for Rs 542 crore. 

Three people with links to the Trinamool Congress – including one of its senior leaders – hit the jackpot between December 2021 and August 2022. 

All won Rs 1 crore each in a lottery distributed by a company that, according to fresh data revealed by the Electoral Commission, was the largest donor of electoral bonds to the Trinamool Congress. 

In August 2022, Ruchika Gupta, the wife of Trinamool Congress’s Jorasanko legislator Vivek Gupta, won the Dear Lottery, the state government lottery organised by Sikkim and Nagaland. Future Gaming is the sole distributor of the “paper lottery”, The Hindu reported

A month earlier, Neru Singh, the sister-in-law of the party’s Naihali MLA, Rajendra Prasad Singh, won a Rs 1 crore prize in the same lottery. In December 2021, the party’s Birbhum district president Anubrata Mondal also won Rs 1 crore in the same lottery. According to an India Today report, a Central Bureau of Investigation probe has revealed that Mandal and his family members have won the lottery multiple times.

The news of Gupta’s victory had led to a political row in West Bengal, with the Bharatiya Janata Party accusing the Trinamool Congress of money laundering. “Common people buy tickets but TMC leaders win bumper prize,” tweeted BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari on October 27, 2022. “It’s an easy way to launder money.”

The Trinamool Congress leaders had denied the allegations.

Read: Not just electoral bonds, BJP is biggest beneficiary of all political finance

The ‘Dear Lottery’ in Bengal

In a letter written to the Union home minister in November 2021, Adhikari had claimed that the Bengal government daily lottery had been “suddenly stopped” in March 2020. Sikkim and Nagaland lotteries are, however, distributed in the state.

Adhikari alleged that “crores are generated” in West Bengal, one of the biggest markets of Dear Lottery, of which “a substantial part is handed over to” the Trinamool Congress. He demanded an investigation into the “irregularities.”

In 2022, the Enforcement Directorate attached properties worth ₹409.92 crore in a case against Future Gaming and its various sub-distributors and area distributors for West Bengal, The Hindu reported. The agency accused the company of “illegally retaining unsold [Dear Lottery] tickets and claiming top prizes on such tickets in the pre-Goods and Services Tax period up to 2017”. 

Read: ‘Lottery king’ Santiago Martin’s company gave most electoral bonds to TMC, DMK & YSRCP

Martin’s donations

Owned by ‘lottery king’ from Tamil Nadu, Santiago Martin, Future Gaming has given a total of Rs 1,368 crore to seven political parties in various states by the way of bonds between April 2019 and January 2024.

The Trinamool Congress is the largest recipient, followed by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Rs 509 crore), the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party or YSRCP (Rs 149 crore), the Bharatiya Janata Party (Rs 100 crore) and the Congress (Rs 50 crore), according to the latest data released by the Election Commision of India.

The company donated Rs 11 crore to Sikkim Krantikari Morcha, which is the ruling party in Sikkim led by Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang, and Rs 5 crore to the Sikkim Democratic Front. 

Santiago Martin’s connections with the DMK has been well-known for a while. His music channel, SS Music, produced ‘Ilaignan’, M Karunanidhi's 75th movie as a scriptwriter in 2011. He later funded M Karunanidhi’s film project called ‘Ponnar Shankar’, which had been on the backburner for many years. But despite his proximity with the DMK first family, he failed to persuade them to lift the ban on lottery in Tamil Nadu when the party came to power in 2006. 

Read: The bond between 'Lottery King' Santiago Martin, political parties and probe agencies

This report is part of a collaborative project involving three news organisations – Newslaundry, Scroll, The News Minute – and independent journalists.

Project Electoral Bond includes Aban Usmani, Anand Mangnale, Anisha Sheth, Anjana Meenakshi, Ayush Tiwari, Azeefa Fathima, Basant Kumar, Dhanya Rajendran, Divya Aslesha, Jayashree Arunachalam, Joyal, M Rajshekhar, Maria Teresa Raju, Nandini Chandrashekar, Neel Madhav, Nikita Saxena, Parth MN, Pooja Prasanna, Prajwal Bhat, Prateek Goyal, Pratyush Deep, Ragamalika Karthikeyan, Raman Kirpal, Ravi Nair, Sachi Hegde, Shabbir Ahmed, Shivnarayan Rajpurohit, Siddharth Mishra, Supriya Sharma, Tabassum Barnagarwala and Vaishnavi Rathore.

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