All you wanted to know about betting

Shishir Sinha | Updated on November 23, 2020

Every IPL season, controversies about sports betting and its illegitimate cousin — match fixing — do the rounds. Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur has ignited the debate on legalising betting in sports, particularly in cricket. In a conference last week, responding to suggestions by a participant, he said: “If we look at the problem of match-fixing, then trends in betting can give us leads on whether something unholy is happening or not.”

He went on to suggest that legalising betting can be a potent tool to stop fixing. Betting is legal in countries such as Australia and England and is a cash cow for their governments. In India, in 2018, the Law Commission recommended that legalising betting and gambling in the present scenario is not desirable and that a ban must be enforced on unlawful betting and gambling. It however said that if this is not possible, then regulating this activity is the viable option.

What is it?

Any attempt to define betting will be incomplete without mentioning gambling, as both are acts of wagering. Writers of history and mythology have described both terms. Manusmriti, in verse number 223 of chapter 9, says: “When inanimate (things) are used (for staking money on them), that is called gambling (dyuta), when animate beings are used (for the same purpose), one must know that to be betting (samahvaya).”

Taking this definition forward, Kautilya in his famous book Arthashastra (translated into English by LN Rangarajan, published by Penguin) said: “Gambling is described as wagering with inanimate objects such as dice; betting appears to have involved challenges and was concerned with cock fights, animal races and similar contest.”

The Law Commission’s report titled ‘Legal Framework: Gambling and Sports Betting including in Cricket in India’ more closely approached our current understanding of these terms. It made the key distinction that in gambling, the stake or wager is placed on an event without any clue of the outcome. Whereas, in betting, the stakes are placed on an event, the outcome of which is based on the performance of the players, influenced by their skill.

Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries says that betting is the act of risking money, etc., on the unknown result of an event while Cambridge Dictionary says betting is the habit of risking money on horse races, sports events, etc.

The debate continues. However, it can be said that betting is an act of wagering based on the performance or skill of participants in a game. That is why betting is more commonly used for sporting events such as cricket or horse racing.

Why is it important?

Betting is obviously as old as time, and gambling and betting together, while illegal, have evolved into a multi-billion dollar industry in India with one estimate pegging the market at $60 billion. While unregulated betting can give rise to malpractices like match fixing and player manipulation, legalising and framing rules for it can subject participants in this activity to greater public scrutiny. Legalisation of betting can help in generating higher revenue for the government by way of taxation too. Chartered accountants feel that such revenue can easily fill the gap in GST shortfall.

Why should I care?

Cricket is a religion in India. Any whiff of irregularities in this sporting event stirs up public sentiment like nothing else. The shadow of betting has also cast a pall on the Indian Premier League (IPL), leading to the strengthening of the surveillance mechanism for cricket. Some Indian and foreign players were allegedly involved in both betting and match fixing to control the outcome. Now, players are supposed to report any such instance of approach by a bookie. As betting is illegal in India, one would be involved in this act at a huge risk.

The bottomline

If you can’t ban it, why not legalise it and demand your pound of flesh?

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Published on November 23, 2020

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