The prospect of online betting being legalised in India has received a significant boost, as it has been revealed that the Sports Ministry has begun informal conversation with several members of the government. While there are many hurdles yet to be overcome before this is made a reality, the preliminary discussions at least suggest a push for the move is likely to be made. Currently, the practice is legal in India for horse racing only.
The Sports Ministry is likely to receive input from the United Kingdom, who have a highly successful online betting system. The ‘effective gambling laws’ implemented in the UK appear to be the benchmark for the Ministry, with a ministry official stating ‘we hope to understand their system and see if it is possible to introduce it in India’.
The introduction of legal online betting in India would see numerous benefits.
At present, there is an enormous illegal betting market in India. Predominantly, this exists through unregulated offshore websites, as well as local bookmakers. The market is hugely profitable, believed to be worth around Rs 9.6 lakh crore, or USD$150 billion.
Legalising online betting would undercut this black market significantly. Evidently, a market already exists for the service, and legalising it would simply move a large portion of consumers from the illegal market to the legal one.
Further to this, legalising the market can result in huge benefits to Indian sport in general. In the UK, a large portion of revenue raised through online gambling is re-inserted into the sporting industry.
A number of programmes run by the Sports Ministry can receive a cut of the profits, but perhaps more importantly, so too can sports at the central and state level. Currently, funding at these levels is a major issue in India. Providing them with a significant percentage of the revenue raised in a hugely profitable industry would likely see vast improvements made at these levels, which is in turn able to have an influence on sport at the elite level in the country as well.
Of course, there are certain problems associated with the introduction of legal online betting in a country with the size and diversity of India as well. A primary issue is the sensitive nature of betting as a socio-political subject in the country, with the legalisation of a practice viewed by many as unethical likely to result in some backlash.
The prospect of this move also places the integrity of cricket further into the spotlight. The recent controversy at Pune, where the curator was suspended for pitch fixing prior to a One Day International, raised the eyebrows of many, and brought into question the integrity of the sport.
Being an international fixture, this discovery had ramifications for punters around the world, but particularly so in India. After all, this is where the game was being played, and where an overwhelming majority of interest in the game lay.
Despite the illegality of online betting, there is still a large betting industry in India, and punters rightly expect the games on which they place their money to be fair competitions.
Creating a legal online betting market would demand that this is even more tightly controlled, as any further suggestions of match fixing are likely to cause even greater problems.
For the time being, discussions around the topic are very much preliminary. It will take a number of years for this move to be implemented, with the Sports Ministry of India still needing to gather a large amount of knowledge from its international counterparts, and convince the government, before it becomes a reality.
The revelation of any discussions at all, however preliminary, is nonetheless an exciting development for punters in India, who can look forward to being able to legally bet on the game they love in the coming years.