Taking a gamble - It’s time for India’s betting industry to be legalised

india flagFor a country in which gambling on cricket is illegal, India really does fancy a flutter and it’s time the country’s law-makers woke up to what their people want. Restricted by the age-old Public Gaming Act of 1867 – a relic of colonial rule, which forbids almost all forms of in loco betting – Indians still have to tip-toe around the topic of gambling. It remains a social taboo; the unclean relative locked out of a family gathering. The way in which it is ostracised by archaic legislation shows tremendous neglect on the realities of society and the evolution of the modern sports fan. The advent of the internet has given Indians a legitimate outlet. The Public Gaming Act’s very Victorian structure and definition means online bookmakers can make the most of plenty of legal loopholes. Now, punters can use foreign websites to route their money and back their favourites, and the outcome is a juggernaut industry, which if correctly tapped, could net the Indian government many, many millions of dollars. In January, a Supreme Court panel recommended the legalisation of betting within India. Set up in the aftermath of match-fixing scandals within the Indian Premier League, the panel was put together with the stressed intention of improving the dynamics of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). While accepting that there remains a certain section of Indian society that disagrees with gambling on a purely moral level, the panel has proposed a rethink on the national outlook on the issue. It is a sensible and thoroughly progressive approach for many reasons – most notably financial. India’s tax revenue misses out on an estimated $2billion dollars a year from a black market betting industry, which is worth around $150billion, according to the Doha-based International Centre for Sports Security. That rake on an already established and profitable industry would net the country’s government 365,000 times the average national wage, or fund 6500 medium-sized hospitals. Every year. Each one day international involving India can spark an estimated total wager in the region of $200million, while IPL games may not quite hit those heady heights put still entice punters of lay around $100million. It is big business. It is bold business. It is brash business. Perhaps that is why there are still those in Indian society who disagree with gambling as a whole so vehemently. Perhaps it is because those lower down the social ladder now have an ease of access to bookmakers that was previously reserved for the rich and powerful. For all the talk of gambling’s addictive potential – and of course that is undeniable – in communities where the industry has thrived, most notably the UK, bookmakers have taken on the necessary responsibilities to educate their customers. Some would suggest that gamblers who use the Indian black market to make vast profits with no audit trail are likely to run a mile should the state attempt to run the rule over the industry. That is down to the manner of the state’s involvement. A nominal five per cent tax would barely eat into the sizeable profits of the country’s professional punters, while those who flaunt the law on a regular basis just to dabble 200 rupees on Virat Kohli top scoring in a World T20 semi-final are not about to lose interest over trivial sums. Furthermore, legitimising and regulating the betting industry would allow India to fall further in line with the developed world. The Public Gaming Act is a quilt of outdated rhetoric and inconsistent definitions. The legislation outlaws betting on ‘games of skill’ but permits a flutter on a ‘game of chance’, somehow declaring horse racing – in which the best geldings are reared through the best facilities, best trainers and months of conditioning work – falls under the latter category. Texas Hold’Em Poker – the most popular card game in the world – is banned, yet rummy is granted a hall pass. The Act fails to compensate for the online world, although one state – Sikkim – has recently changed its federal laws to allow servers from within its borders the right to operate gambling licences. Most extraordinarily, yet at the same time not surprising at all, Indian law makes direct foreign investment in any form of legal gaming on her shores totally illegal. Wake up, guys. To legitimise betting in India would be to remove the cloak of invisibility from the industry. Bookmakers like those involved in the fixing of IPL matches three years ago would find it hard to get inside the heads of cricketers should they be subject to public scrutiny. Some Indians want to keep betting locked out to avoid it spreading like some rampant plague through society but only by opening its door can the real identity of the enemy become known. Indians who wish to ignore the problem and carry on as normal, pretending not to notice the black market growing ever wider and deeper beneath their feet, might think they are trying to retain the old romanticism of cricket on the sub-continent. But they’re not. They are enabling its destruction. The market leaders of the UK have set the example – mass exposure, constant entertainment, responsible operating and cooperation with the state helped generate around £20.1billion in gross gambling yield, according to a UK Gambling Commission report. That is a business, a legitimate business; a country listening to what its people want. There will always be problems caused by gambling, just as there are likely issues with alcohol or tobacco, but the taxation of a mainstream and legal betting industry in India could quickly generate the funds to educate and rehabilitate problem gamblers. Those who choose to campaign against betting’s legalisation are taking a morally dictatorial stance, making wild claims about the impact a frontline gambling industry would have on 21st-century India. Their backwards logic is lost on a population who evidently enjoy the pastime. Their continued ignorance will only allow match-fixers a safer haven in which to operate. For the good of the game and for the progression of society, it needs to change. Sam M. - Freelance Sports Writer - t: @SamMorshead_

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