Millennium Post

Better to regulate

Legalised betting would not only curb unsavoury practices in sports but also provide a huge revenue source for the government, opines Arjavi Indraneesh

If you cannot fight your enemy, join him. This is a most pragmatic approach, provided one is emotionally strong enough to absorb the change in role. Something similar is being advocated with regard to the policy on gambling. If it's not possible to prevent it, regulate it.

It has been proven beyond doubt and from time immemorial that gambling has a certain irresistible appeal and cannot be stopped. So it would appear eminently logical that gambling is subjected to regulation. And, this is a most compulsive argument in favour of legalising betting, which is now engaging the attention of the government.

Today, people gamble and bet over phone, SMS and the internet. Easy access to internet betting sites, having a global presence, has made regulation of betting a serious challenge. Telecommunication technology and global bank transfers have linked the host networks but the merging of lines between skill and chance has made application of rules really tough.

The Law Commission has produced a report on the legal framework of gambling and sports betting, including cricket, in India. Although gambling and betting are not exactly the same, the two are intertwined so closely that one cannot often be differentiated from the other. So this complex relationship is a primary consideration when dealing with betting in sports and cricket.

One line of argument is that gambling should be regulated like the stock market, for some degree of skill is involved in both activities. De-criminalisation of these activities could prevent people from being subjected to loan-sharking, i.e., incurring debts and borrowing loans at exorbitant rates. It is further argued that this will preserve the integrity of the 'game'.

As the illegal and unregulated betting industry is thriving and it is extremely difficult to control it, it is deemed necessary to legalise and regulate such activities to prevent pernicious consequences that it ensues. This will, on one hand, generate huge revenues and on the other, would save people from any kind of inconvenience at the hands of the law enforcement agencies. Furthermore, this would help in curbing unethical betting activities of the likes of match-fixing in sports.

It has also been argued by many that since horse-racing has always been considered legal, gambling and betting activities should also be treated alike. The straitjacket prohibition on gambling has resulted in a rampant increase in illegal gambling, resulting in a boom in black-money generation and circulation. Regulated gambling could ensure the detection of fraud and money laundering and would create transparency.

Some people have suggested that since a huge amount is siphoned off to foreign countries every year and the government loses the revenue, it is in the interest of the general public that though gambling and betting are State subjects, Parliament should enact a law in exercise of its legislative competence under Article 249 or Article 252 of the Constitution of India. Additionally, it was suggested that an Inter-State Council may be constituted under Article 263 of the Constitution for effective regulation of gambling activities in India.

Sports and in particular, cricket, has been most adversely affected by illegal betting. To increase their chances of winning the bet, people engage in corrupt practices, such as bribing individual players to perform poorly and sometimes entire teams to throw away games.

Contrary to 'match-fixing', where the end result of the game is pre-decided, 'spot-fixing' or 'sessions betting' entails illegal activity regarding a specific aspect of the game unrelated to the final result of the game. The bet is won if and when the event (for example, a batsman hitting a six within the following 'x' number of deliveries or a bowler claiming a wicket in a particular over, etc.) takes place. Huge sums of money poured in these matches exacerbate this problem.

It is estimated that bets worth 1,300 crore rupees are placed on every One Day International cricket match that the Indian team plays. These estimates cite an example from 2015 when the Indian cricket team played 21 One Day International matches. This would mean a total betting amount of about 27,300 crore rupees.

A Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) report of 2013 put the size of India's underground betting market at 3 lakh crore rupees and lamented that the country was losing colossal amounts that should have been available for development, only if betting was regulated and taxed.

FICCI has been arguing that regulation will not only restrict illegal activities but also generate revenue for the government to invest in social sectors apart from the sports sector. The money earned from betting can be used to augment infrastructure for other sports and tourist facilities. It further pointed out, with examples of UK and China, that globally sports betting and gambling are utilised to generate funds for good causes and promotion of sports.

A most important reason for regulation is that the lack of legal basis does not prevent betting and gambling from taking place. If it is unstoppable, then why not regulate it so that at least some of the 'black' activities can be curbed and at the same time, betting turnovers subjected to taxation. The tax realisation could be as big or close to the size of the Reserve Bank of India's transfer to the government by way of dividend and surplus.

Views expressed are strictly personal

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