Make betting in sport legal

MOHAN R. LAVI | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on May 21, 2013

Betting need not turn into racketeering. — K. Bhagya Prakash

It will bring competition and transparency into the murky underworld of gambling.

Just as we thought that we were having a spotless IPL-6 came the news about three players indulging in spot-fixing. It proves the point that probably no major sporting event in India — particularly the IPL — can be run without some controversy or the other.

The arrests made and probes that have been ordered will throw up some facts and nexuses, and action will be taken against the guilty. But one should look at a long-term solution for this menace as the ghost of fixing (spot, match or in any other form) can appear at any time to entice the gullible cricketer. With competition to secure a place in cricket teams intense and the shelf-life of cricketers becoming shorter, it should be really tempting (though there is absolutely no justification) for a weak-kneed cricketer to accept cash to bowl a ball that even a novice can score off, at a pre-determined time in a match.

Apparently, there is an elaborate system of signals that need to be given before the act is done so that the ones who make more money than the cricketers — the bookies — can proceed to share the spoils of the act.

Betting legislation

There is no dearth of legislation in India to control and regulate betting and gambling. As per the seventh Schedule of the Constitution, the Union government is empowered to make laws to regulate the conduct of lotteries, while the State governments have been given the responsibility of authorising/conducting the lotteries and making laws on betting and gambling.

The Public Gambling Act, 1867, provides details for the punishment of public gambling. The Lotteries (Regulation) Act, 1998, lays down guidelines and restrictions in conducting lotteries. Section 294-A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, lays down punishment for keeping a lottery office without the authorisation of the State government, while Section 30 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872, prevents any person from bringing a suit for recovery of any winnings won by way of a wager — this ensures that no claim for recovery of any winnings in lotteries, gambling or betting can be brought before the court.

The position of law in India is such that it may be perfectly legal to buy a lottery ticket, but the winner of such a lottery will have no remedy against the lottery agency, if the said agency refuses to pay the prize amount. The Information Technology Act, 2011, tries to put a stranglehold on Internet gambling by covering gambling sites and holds the Internet Service Providers responsible for blocking offshore betting sites. The issue with all these Acts is one that is common to most Acts in India — penal provisions exist only in name and working around them is the rule rather than the exception.

Make it legal?

Instead of having myriad laws to control gambling and betting, it would probably be realistic to have a single law that legalises sports betting in India. While the guilty cricketers are an integral part of the racket, the kingpin of these remain the bookies. At present, the bookies appear to have connection with the who’s who of the underworld and film world.

Legalising sports betting would bring in more competition and transparency into the secret world of bookies, which could curtail illegal betting. Sikkim and Goa are the only two States in India where betting is official. International betting houses have ensured that betting online is safe, secure and subject to minimum interference by outsiders. There will be attempts by operators to circumvent the system and get into private deals with cricketers, but a robust law and efficient implementation of it should act as a deterrent.

The law should be a combination of the Public Gambling Act and the Information Technology Act. The Public Gambling Act needs to be completely rewritten — penalties under the Act are still a measly Rs 200. Illustrative examples need to be provided in the Information Technology Act to ensure that violation of the Act would lead to stringent punishment.

Sometimes, instead of over-regulation, opening up regulations is the solution. Just as players would now be wary of mopping their sweat with a hand-towel as it could be mistaken as a signal for spot-fixing, bookies should be wary of the fact that a million others can legally indulge in betting, thereby negating their presence.

(The author is Director, Finance, Ellucian)

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Published on May 21, 2013
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