The many challenges of legalising betting in India

  • Somshuvra Laha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 10, 2016 12:33 IST
Attempts to legalise betting on sports face a plethora of challenges in India. (PTI Photo)

The Lodha Committee report comes down hard on match fixing and calls for it to be eradicated but says a ban on betting ‘drives it underground and makes it difficult to regulate/monitor’. The report maintains that players, team officials, employees and members should be barred from betting. The question to ask right now is whether it is a good move to legalise betting in a country as cricket crazy as India.

Experts have varying opinions. When the IPL spot-fixing scandal broke, several lawyers whom HT spoke to were in favour of legalising betting. The top reason they cited was that it brings a lot of money to the treasury in the form of tax, which would otherwise remain black. Only a few countries have legalised betting on sports — UK, Australia, Canada, some states in the US, and parts of Europe.

Windfall Gains

A recent report in the Sydney Morning Herald quoted a 2010 survey to say that Australia’s economy had benefited up to Australian $11.1 billion (approx `51,862 crore) due to gambling. In Canada, it’s nearly a $15 billion industry. But these developed nations have a history of regulated betting.

A parallel to India’s current situation can be drawn with Brazil, where football’s overwhelming popularity attracts a lot of betting, especially online. Like Sikkim and Goa, Brazil too has legalised betting in casinos and on horse racing. The Brazilian government has cracked down on gambling, either by trying to outlaw online betting (2008) or by forcing Internet Service Providers to ban gambling websites (2009).

As the 2014 World Cup dawned on it, Brazil realised it was missing out on a huge revenue generator, and as a fix, enabled betting on federal sports lotteries and other games offered through a bank. The first step towards legalising betting in Brazil came in 2015, but President Dilma Rousseff torpedoed the efforts in August by vetoing it.

A Complex Issue

However, Brazil’s wobbly stance on this issue shows how allowing betting could lead to gambling addiction, and even a rise in crime. Similar logic could be applied to India where betting could be seen as a way to earn quick money. That itself contradicts the basic principle of betting — that it is a form of game where one wins or loses fair and square, without an external factor.

That’s one of the reasons why a veteran punter at the Royal Calcutta Turf Club, the oldest race course in India, feels it would be impossible to control match-fixing if betting on cricket is legalised.

“If cricket betting is legalised, there will be efforts to fix more games. It will be a nightmare for law enforcement agencies,” he said on condition of anonymity. He also doubted that those linked to cricket would be able to stay away from placing bets. “The lure is too big. Not every identity can be checked.” The punter, however, agreed that betting could lead to an economic boom.

“Maybe it can lead to more employment. It’s just like in the 1970s when satta started to make its presence felt. There were calls to legalise it so that it could create more jobs, but it never happened because of certain reasons,” he says.

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