Should gambling and betting in sports including cricket be given statutory backing and legalised? At least, the Law Commission thinks that it’s the only way to regulate the unregulated gambling and betting industry that has spread its tentacles in India. Industry estimates have put the size of illicit gambling industry at Rs 300,000 crore Apart from betting and gambling on regular sports, the industry includes running lotteries, casinos, poker etc that has a very restricted presence in tourist destinations like Goa.
India has never been a votary of gambling and betting. But Indians are known to be aggressive players in casinos when holidaying abroad. The commission’s report seeks to turn the billions of dollars worth illicit gambling and betting industry into a regulated and organised industry providing legitimacy to these operations. ‘Satta’ deals, syndicates that bet on elections or economy, will be hit big time if gambling becomes legitimate. The report has kicked up a national debate on gambling and betting to be recognised as a profession, avocation, services or part of the entertainment industry. Views could be sharply divided given that a large chunk of population has very little surplus resources to bet, gamble and take risks. The risks in gambling would at least be a hundred times more than the most organised stock trading that happens under sharp eye of Sebi. Sadly, the reality is that betting on cricket is very big business in India.
Big policy question would, therefore, be will gambling and betting whittle away meager savings of the middle and lower middle class turning them into paupers, ruining families and their finances?
Parliament and state legislatures will have to consider the possibility of betting industry that could further corrupt major sports and games that are to be played by rules. Already, in established games like cricket, match and spot fixing have become a phenomenon. And, India is no exception given the huge bets done by underworld gangs with the associated money laundering cartels involved.
What do we prove by legalising the illicit bets held till now? Since we cannot anyway control the betting, let’s make it legal says the law commission. Should that be the approach to every vice in society? If the commission’s report were to be accepted, then law enforcement agencies that hitherto hounded out betting gangs may have to spread a red carpet for these operators. Even if few millions of dollars were to come in, set up casinos and manage the betting and gambling business, is it worth it? Hence, allowing big casino owners to set up shop in India via FDI route cannot top the government’s priority agenda. Expecting people to play safe and fair by using their credit & debit cards, restricting number of gambles in a quarter, half year or full year is not workable. What could perhaps be achieved was massive cash betting and pushing up more avenues to launder money amassed through tax evasion. Government needs to junk the report and round up the entire illicit betting and gambling gangs.