S Murlidharan

Thin line divides betting and spot-fixing

S. MURLIDHARAN | Updated on March 12, 2018

When sums involved in betting are large, the incentive to fix outcomes increases.

The raging, ongoing spot-fixing controversy involving some Rajasthan Royals players has brought to the fore the legality of betting in India. While spot-fixing, i.e. altering the outcome of a match through lax bowling effort or otherwise, has elicited outrage from the public, many take a more tolerant view of betting. Vindoo Dara Singh and BCCI President-cum-Chennai Super Kings owner N. Srinivasan’s son-in-law G. Meiyappan are both in the dock for their alleged betting activities on the outcome of IPL matches mainly featuring the CSK and involving huge sums of money. What makes betting less monstrous in people’s eyes is the fact that it is supposed to be harmless, with the outcome of the match not being affected one way or the other.

Indian Contract Act

Section 30 of the Indian Contract Act says agreements by way of wager are void, and no suit shall be brought for recovering anything alleged to be won on any wager. The section does not offer a definition of what constitutes wager. Indeed, the Act itself is conspicuous by the absence of the definition of the term. But that does not pose any great challenge because wagering is the same as betting – two persons taking opposite views on the outcome of an issue, or the ‘happening’ or ‘non-happening’ of an event, with each promising to pay the other a pre-determined amount or any monetary equivalent thereof in case the other is vindicated by the turn of events over which they have had no control. In light of this legal position, the moot question is whether the police have been a little overzealous in arresting those involved in betting.

Spot-fixing, to be sure, squares with cheating, but betting is at best unenforceable without being illegal. All that happens to a wagering or betting agreement is the law will not take cognisance of it; its winner cannot drag the loser to the courts. What, perhaps, strengthens the hands of betters in the UK, for example, where betting is kosher and legal, is the fact that in addition, the winner of a bet can enforce the agreement through legal action.

Players and other insiders are, of course, banned from betting. This is akin to the law on insider trading that makes trading by top brass and others endowed with price sensitive information on shares of the company illegal. But betters facing the heat of the ongoing police action may have to be let off, if the action is for the alleged illegality per se of betting.

The police presumably are baying for the blood of the betters, sensing illegality in dispensing the bet money. The infamous hawala route is being whispered about. Hawala money moves with speed through surreptitious channels cutting across national boundaries. The issue that needs to be addressed is whether betting per se is as innocuous as it is made out to be.

The superficial impression is that whereas spot-fixing is obnoxious as it alters the outcome of the match, betting does not alter the outcome and hence is innocuous. But deeper reflection would show that if the stakes are fairly high, it might push one to intercede so as to influence the outcome itself by, for example, bribing the umpires or players or both. A more daring better could go to the extent of threateningthe player should the player not play in the manner required by the better. And this threat may be held out to many players. When massive amounts are at stake, the better might be tempted to resort to illegal means so as to make his bet a self-fulfilling prophecy. Such massive amounts can be put at stake when betting takes place in unregulated environs.

Make it enforceable

The chorus for making betting legal (read enforceable) in India, though born of half-baked knowledge, nevertheless has a merit – if there is a limit up to which one can bet, it may be a harmless pastime, like imbibing beer with very little alcohol content.

Yes, the Government should forthwith amend Section 30 of the Indian Contract Act so as to make betting not only legal which it is even now, but in addition enforceable as well, subject to a few caveats. The UK model perhaps can be adopted mutatis mutandis. When thousands of people participate in the official betting apparatus subject to stiff regulations, big fishes strutting around would be automatically tamed because the combined strength of the masses would dwarf the strength of the underworld.

The author is a New Delhi-based chartered accountant

Published on May 30, 2013

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