Is Legalization Of Betting In Cricket A Just Decision?

A few facts about gambling in the Indian perspective:

Betting and gambling are a part of the eons old Indian heritage, dating back to the era of Mahabharata. In fact Mahabharata would not have existed, if the Pandavas did not lose everything in a dice game, with the Kauravas. As a part of the Deewali celebrations, even the normal people resort to gambling, in different parts of the country, mostly ignorant that such activity is completely illegal!

It is to be mentioned here that, addiction comes as a part of the package of the betting and gambling activities, and has proved to be as serious as drug addiction with similar consequences. Especially, because of these reasons, gambling is generally looked down upon in our country, as a practice of disrepute and evil.

The most predominant sport in our country being cricket, the moot point is whether betting in cricket should be legalized by the Government! Many people, involved in betting on cricket matches, with enough money, believe in tipping the scales of luck in their favor, through match and spot fixing. Mainly controlled by the underworld, match fixing marks the insecure new recruits, who, acutely pressurized by performance issues, are more susceptible to bribery, which makes them underperform, and throw away a match at the crucial moment. Despite the fact that the Indian Premier League (IPL) has been adversely affected by such practices, the net amount of bets involved in the IPL finals, between Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians, happened to be a whopping Rs 1500 crore, even in the face of the spot fixing scandals, unraveled by the investigative agencies.

While the Law Minister Kapil Sibal denounced ‘unfair practices’ in sports, and expressed his intentions of introducing a new legislation to counter such practices, cricket betting continues to be a prospering practice . As logically pointed out by Carl Rohsler, Partner, Squire Sanders Hammonds, UK, – a law farm, whose major clientele are the global gambling organizations, “India should legalize sports betting. Betting is a vice that cannot be eliminated. Instead of turning its back on the problem, the Government should find solutions”. Government points out that, the legalization issue is strictly a matter for the States to decide. Experts are, however, of the opinion that, a legalization of sports betting will curtail spot and match fixing incidents, besides earning the Government some extra revenue.

Opinions of different key figures concerning the legalization of cricket betting issues:  

Its seems, with the current scenario in India, where sports betting continues undeterred, in spite of a number of supposed legal interventions and impeachments, lots of important people are rethinking the issue that, sports betting is still an illegal practice in our country. For instance, the CBI Director Ranjit Singh, while addressing the assemblage of senior bureau officials, in the three day CBI symposium, a part of which was ‘Ethics and Integrity in Sports’, openly advocated legalizing sports betting, as evident from his statement, “If there are lotteries in the state, if we can have casinos in the tourist resorts and if the Government can declare schemes for voluntary disclosure of black money, what’s the harm if we legalize betting?” Rahul Dravid, the cricket idol of the Indian team, was invited as a special guest to this CBI convention. Dravid’s opinions were congruent with that of CBI chief Ranjit Singh, as evident from his comment, “If the law enforcement agencies feel it is right, betting in sports should be legalized.”  Highlighting the acute pressure of performance on the new recruits, and the insecurity stemming from it, he further added, “In this scenario there are temptations to cut corners, use unfair means and make a quick buck”. Dravid’s statement seems to be a stark contradiction to his old school, textbook cricketer image.

Union Minister of Renewable Energy, Farooq Abdullah, openly expressed his support for legalizing cricket betting, which in turn, was severely called in question, by Kirti Azad, Ex – Indian team cricketer and presently a leader of the BJP.

Ex – Mumbai super cop and currently a lawyer, Y P Singh, commented that, “No Government has the courage to legalize cricket betting as it will entail a huge social cost. From schoolchildren to laborers, everybody is crazy about cricket. Money meant for the family could be diverted to betting on the game”. Singh seems to have struck a chord of concern. It is a fact that, there are more cricket lovers in this country, than literate people. Even an illiterate child labor knows who Sachin Tendulkar is. Therefore the point raised by Singh, indeed needs consideration because, as suggested by Singh, legalizing cricket betting may have a negative effect on the society, as a whole. It is the illiterate people, who are more prone to vices and addictions, and if they have a legal betting option on a game they are crazy about, it is likely that the situations may indeed spin out of control.

The view of the Government on legalizing cricket betting:

As mandated by the Public Gaming Act, 1867, “The Act (is) not to apply to certain games. Nothing in the foregoing provisions of this Act contained shall be held to apply to any game of mere skill wherever played”, drawing a distinct line of demarcation, on putting a wager on a skill based game and simple betting. Supreme Court confirms that horseracing comes in the realm of legalized betting, because it is a skill oriented sport. Fact remains, only a small community, belonging strictly to the upper echelons of the society, indulges in this form of gambling. While cricket is undoubtedly a skill based game, legalizing betting in cricket, will be in congruence with the Public Gaming Act. As confirmed by Majid Mennon, criminal lawyer and National Congress Party Leader, “Laws need to keep pace with the times and reconsider the whole thing. Legalizing betting could enrich the State’s treasury”. However, the best analysis so far, on this issue, came from Kiran Bedi, ex – IPS officer and a social activist, “Rather than allowing the skill of the game to define gambling, we must strike a balance between social costs and financial gains, in updating the ‘British written’ gambling laws”. She further added that, “A gambler with inside knowledge of the game should be heavily punished; one whose skill and understanding of the game guides his betting, should be encouraged to use his skills for the game instead; and the gambler who has no idea about the game, but has money to play around with, must be counted as a victim and protected from the vice”.

While the Government has already declared that legalizing betting issues strictly pertains to the State, the Sports Ministry has strongly demurred from making any claims about legalizing cricket betting. Law Minister Kapil Sribal’s promised bill, to counter ‘unfair practices’ in sports, by August of this year, had failed to see the light yet. The State of Sikkim and the Union Territory of Goa have legalized sports betting, and have introduced legal casinos for tourist recreations and legal gambling in general.

Conclusion – Summing up:

As per a rough estimate, the net wagers in cricket betting can range from USD 60 million to USD 200 million annually, depending on the importance of the tournament. Most of this money goes into the pockets of the underworld, because majority of the betting is controlled by the underworld, through an organized network of illegal bookies, distributed throughout the country. If cricket betting is legalized, while the game and the Government stands to gain financially, it will also loosen the grip of the underworld on the tournaments, effectively curbing match and spot fixing issues. My personal opinion, cricket betting should be legalized, accompanied by strong law enforcement and of course, keeping the social impacts under control. Gambling is the incredible skill of making something out of nothing, and with any form of gambling, whether it’s a roulette table or a cricket match, one factor is inseparable, that is luck. True luck consists not in holding the best of the cards at the table or predicting the outcome of a cricket match, accurately. Luckiest is he, who knows just when to quit and go home!