It is time we view sports betting as a form of entertainment rather than an immoral activity.
It is time we view sports betting as a form of entertainment rather than an immoral activity. The primary arguments against legalised sports betting is the perception of moral wrong, threats of addiction and a belief that it may lead to sporting fraud, i.e. match-fixing/spot-fixing. Often incidents from the Mahabharata are quoted as arguments against it.
These issues are real and existent. But if ever a law to legalise betting is considered, it would not seek to regulate it in a manner where the benefits from a legalised sports betting can be used and enjoyed by the state and the public, whereas vices associated with it are controlled. Sports betting in India takes place and some estimates peg this at Rs 300,000 crores. Most people are aware of the dubious dabba system of placing bets and the availability of bookies on the phone. The police investigations during IPL 2013 proved these bookies had strong links to criminal networks. Ignoring the problem is not a solution.
Sports betting should certainly not be allowed without checks. A gaming commission should be tasked with licensing, monitoring and investigating betting operators and voiding all fraudulent bets.
All international gaming commissions have put in place a system for checking addiction. A possible legislation could consider a ban on advertisements at certain times and during viewing of content meant for children. It could also put in place a system, similar to KYC norms followed by banks, that a person would be required to prove his financial viability before placing a bet over a certain amount. It could also put in place a system where a register is maintained and a person himself or a person’s family can put the name of the person on it. Licensed operators would not be allowed to take bets from such persons. Helplines would also be set up to tackle any betting related problems. If revenue from sports betting is taxed even moderately, the government could seek to earn a huge tax revenue, approximately Rs 15,000 crores. This money could be utilised towards funding sports infrastructure and social programmes like the right to education.
Fundamentally, sports betting should not be equated with gambling. Gambling is considered as a moral wrong because it involves wagering on a game of chance and it is nobody’s argument that sport does not involve skills. The moral argument emanates from the principle that no person should be derived of his earnings on a game of chance. This does not apply to sports betting.
Sports betting is a tool to check match-fixing/spot-fixing. All major sports organisation like FIFA and ICC have softwares that monitor betting patterns. If a person seeks to fix a match/spot, he will be bound to place a large sum on that event in order to make a profit. This will disturb the betting pattern and enable agencies to begin their investigation immediately by probing those who have placed large bets.
If anything, regulated sports betting could bring to the forefront the issues pertaining to match-fixing/spot-fixing, which may be escaping the attention of the authorities.
Vidushpat Singhania is the managing partner at Krida Legal. He was secretary to the committee appointed by the Supreme Court to inquire into IPL.
$Betting is a tool to check match-fixing
The clamour to legalise sports betting in this country has been around for a while and I am sure the debate will continue to rage until the government takes a concrete decision. Giving a stamp of approval to the gambling industry, however, is not a solution for eradicating match-fixing in sports, instead you are exposing it to more complicated issues. With the lure of money, there will be efforts to fix more games. The greed for gain has no limit. More than legalising it, perhaps the need of the hour is to implement the Sports Prevention of Fraud Bill, which has been on the backburner for quite a while.
The draft bill proposes to criminalise illegal betting and match-fixing and it will also empower government agencies to take stringent action. At the moment, betting offenders can be booked only under the Public Gambling Act 1867, in which the penalty is negligible. The law also seems ambiguous on online gambling.
Horse-racing remains the only sport in which betting is legal in India, but can anybody vouch for its 100 per cent legitimacy Do you think bookmakers and punters are doing everything as the law stipulates We have seen numerous incidents of jockeys getting suspended by stewards over suspicion of fixing.
No doubt the government will generate more revenue if betting is legalised and all earning and profits are taxable. But there is also the coded betting to consider, which is very common in horse-racing where both the punter and bookmaker deny the government its rightful revenue by coming to an understanding on a formula to code their bets, so that about 90 per cent of it stays off the books and only 10 per cent is declared.
Also, even if betting is legalised in India, is there a guarantee that fixing can be curbed Betting is legal in Europe and there is a clutch of agencies monitoring the industry, yet time and again, marquee sports such as football and tennis come under the scanner. Recently, when the BBC came up with startling revelations during the Australian Open, doubt and disbelief crept into everyone’s mind. The report suggested betting syndicates in Russia and Italy were involved. And some of the players were found to have waged money on their own matches.
People who use unaccounted money to place big bets will never gamble legally. And if you legalise betting, you are giving them a platform to convert their black money. If the idea is put forth in Parliament, it won’t be a surprise if it faces a lot of opposition for the simple fact that there is a stigma associated with betting and gambling in Indian society. Another logic is that betting could lead to gambling addiction, and even be considered as a way to earn quick money. It’s for the same reason, I believe, that lotteries are banned in many states as people lost their hard-earned money.
The biggest problem, however, is keeping minors away from the betting industry. The authorities should consider cricket’s huge following, cutting across age and gender, before even thinking of taking it to Parliament.
(As told to C. Santhosh Kumar)
Ajit Wadekar is a former captain of the Indian cricket team
$The greed for gain has no limit