Even as the crisis in cricket triggered by the spot-fixing scandal continues to sweep the country, there is growing consensus on the need to legalise betting in sporting events. The voices within the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) demanding that its president N Srinivasan step down, at least until investigations against his son-in-law are concluded, are also on the rise. A major debate is on whether legalising betting in India and enacting strong laws would help curb the operations of bookies, who constantly look to tap players to influence the outcome of matches or parts of it and are said to have strong underworld links. While many had suggested legalising betting after the match-fixing scandal erupted in 2000, it gradually lost steam.
In India, only betting on horse racing is legal and there is no specific law to deal with illegal betting in other sports. The authorities can invoke the provisions of the Public Gambling Act of 1867. Under Sections of the Indian Penal Code investigators have caught bookies and players for cheating and breach of trust. Thus, there has been a crying need for specific laws to deal with sports betting. The FICCI has called for legalising betting, arguing that it would fetch massive amounts in taxes and reduce fixing, money-laundering and related crimes. The trade body is for putting in place a system to control, rather than prohibit, gambling. However, there are other hurdles as well. The sports ministry says betting being a state subject, it cannot be part of a central law to regularise betting. But with investigations clearly showing that illegal betting and spot-fixing are in the grip of the underworld, it is time the authorities got over the technicalities. India will do well to study the laws in the United Kingdom, where betting on sports is legal but is highly regulated. It helps prevent gambling rings from influencing teams and individuals. These laws led to the imprisonment of three Pakistani players following the 2010 spot-fixing scandal.
Legalising betting will reduce the number of cricket punters who seek out illegal bookies, and it is obvious that the quantum of bets on cricket matches provide the financial incentive to dubious characters to tap players. This combined with specific laws will go a long way to help prevent a repeat of the present crisis.