Why Not Legalise Betting?

Sep 20, 2010
Look around, the wrecks of play behold!
Estates dismembered, mortgaged, sold!
Their owners now in jail confined,
Show equal poverty of mind.

 - John Gay, English poet (1688-1732).
Shake off the shackles of this tyrant vice;
Hear other calls than those of cards and dice:
Be learned of nobler arts than arts of play;
And other debts than those of honour pay.

 -David Garrick, English actor and play-writer (1716-1779).
Gambling and betting has been part of Indian historic heritage, going back to the epic age of Mahabharata where, after losing all, a wife is put on the betting table. In other words, Indians are heir to great gambling heritage, with betting in their blood. Now, sports betting has again come centre-stage, with calls for legalizing betting. But, first the facts.
Court Calls for Legalised Betting

Even as cricket goes through a crisis induced by the alleged nexus between Pakistani players and a fixer accused of trying to defraud bookmakers, a trial court in Delhi has suggested that betting on cricket and other sports be made legal in India.  “It does not need divine eyes to see that ‘satta’ (betting) in cricket and other games is reaching an alarming situation. The money that this generates is diverted to drug-trafficking and terrorist activities,” recently said Dharmesh Sharma, additional sessions judge of the court in Delhi. “It is high time our legislature seriously considered legalizing the entire system of betting to check this organized crime.”
While citing a report claiming that more than Rs.20,000 crore was pumped into last year’s IPL by betting syndicates, the court was critical of the police for its laxity in checking this illegal business. “In Delhi alone, there would be 2,000-3,000 bookies operating when cricket matches are played.”
Here is the current status of betting in India, as noted by The New Indian Express (2-9-10).

Rampant Illegal Betting

Betting in India is heavily restricted, although there is extensive illegal gambling throughout the country. The Indian gambling market is estimated to be worth $60 billion per year, of which about half is illegal bet.
Only two states allow casino gambling, Goa and Sikkim. There is one casino in Sikkim and 12 in Goa, of which seven are land-based and five are floating casinos that operate on the Mandovi River.
Other than lotteries, legal gambling in India is limited to betting on horse racing.
Online gambling is in its infancy in India, but Sikkim plans to offer three online gambling licences in 2010. Sikkim also permits an online lottery, operated by Playwin, which takes bets from players throughout India. It is expected that other states will follow Sikkim shortly, thereby opening up a major online gambling market throughout India.
While many of India’s bookmakers operate out of street-front bet shops, others are online. Many of the largest international sports betting companies like Betsson and Ladbrokes also offer internet betting in India.
Now defunct British humour magazine, Punch, had a punch-line on betting: “Betting is a means of getting something for nothing. Experience teaches us that it is usually a method of getting nothing for something.” George Washington, first US president (1732-1799) had said: “It (gaming) is the child of avarice the brother of iniquity, and father of mischief.”

Gamblers Lose; Bookies Win

In the long run every gambler learns this lesson. Only the bookie wins and the community of gamblers looses what the bookies rake in. Against this background, there are suggestions for legalizing sports betting, as is done in the case of horse racing. Legalising betting in India would let the government keep track of the flow of the money in this now illegal but well-organised industry which primarily feeds on black money. Also, by legalizing betting, the government can take a slice of the revenue generated and use it for public welfare.
The Indian media has been calling for legalizing betting in the wake of Delhi police recording a conversation between Hansie Conje and a representative of an Indian betting syndicate, and later in connection with IPL fixtures and now Pakistani players in England. Arguing for legalizing betting, The Times of India editorially commented: “By legalizing gambling and bringing it above ground the government can begin to reverse the process, breaking the monopoly of betting cartels and turning black money into white that can be taxed. It will also enable independent bodies to regulate the activity. In most western countries this is now the case, with the size of the gambling sector accounting for 1% of the GDP on average…with the option to make money legally, the risk-reward equation for match-fixing would be altered, disincentivising it.”

Government Greed

But, the whole thing can backfire if the government becomes avaricious and sets out to rake in revenues by high level of taxation. It has happened in the case of lifting Prohibition. The tax component of liquor has pushed it beyond the reach of masses and given rise to an illicit liquor industry – risking health and lives of drinkers. A 5% tax will have no incentive to illicit distillers or betting mafia to risk catching and prosecution. Such a percentage will not have enough to dole out protection money to law enforcers. On the other hand, a 30% tax has ample scope to take risks and buy protection. Therefore, in the legalized regime, the government should not get unduly greedy and end up with counter-productive results.
John B. Monteiro, author and journalist, is editor of his website www.welcometoreason.com (Interactive Cerebral Challenger).

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By John B. Monteiro
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Comment on this article

  • R Mallar, Kasaragod/ Dubai

    Mon, Sep 20 2010

    One positive aspect of legalising betting could be that the details of bookies would be known officially and their invovements in fixing the match can be traced easily. On the negative side, it will attract lot of people from all over India hitherto unaware of the details. This could pose a social problem like drinking/ betting in race courses etc.

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