The IPL spot fixing scandal that broke last month has once again put the spotlight on betting. The current law, the Public Gambling Act 1867, prohibits betting in sports with a few exceptions. Lotteries and betting on horses conducted within race courses are allowed in some states.
Over the past few years, the debate on legalising betting has been gaining momentum. On June 25, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry or FICCI organised a seminar "Interactive Session on Regulating Sports Betting in India: Challenges and Opportunities"
The discussion commenced with Delhi Police's S.N. Srivastava, speaking on several attempts in the past to enforce prohibitions. He said sports betting still continue in India despite such efforts.
"People in favour of legalising betting argue that government is losing out on revenues that it could have earned as taxes. Sikkim and Goa, which have legalised betting, make lots of money in the form of taxes. It will offer protection to minors and vulnerable people against unwise betting," said the Special Commissioner of Delhi Police.
The size of the gambling industry is estimated to be Rs 3 trillion, Srivastava said. "On the other side, the opponents argue that it could have dangerous impact on the society."
The education level of many Indians was not in the same level as other advanced countries, which have legalised betting, according to him. He said the country should not legalise betting because of its failure to enforce the law and match or spot fixing will continue, even if betting is legalised. "We should weigh in pros and cons," he said.
Srivastava's views were not shared by most panelists. George Oborne, Business Development Director (India) at UK-based sports information provider and management consultancy, Sports Gaming, said that the Indian gambling law, designed in 1867, is archaic and out of tune with the current environment. "It's entirely inadequate to use a 19th century law. Gambling law needs to be rewritten."
Oborne said, "In regulated markets, there is an enormous reduction in instances of match fixing". Countries which license gambling include the UK, Australia, several European countries and some states in the US.
Oborne mentioned FIFA's early warning system that was set up in 2007 to monitor sports betting in FIFA tournaments. "The FIFA monitoring system to detect and prevent fixing in matches is working very well."
Vidushpat Singhania, a lawyer and chairman of FICCI's working committee on sports betting, said doping and fixing are the two biggest evils in sports. "Fixing is much bigger than doping. We want to get consultations from all stakeholders involved, be it industry, sports federation, operators and government."
For the past two years, FICCI has been working on this issue. In July last year, the working committee sent a note to various ministries asking them to look into legalising betting in the country.
Albert Climent, founder of Bluesea-Gaming.com, said moving forward, regulation is the way to protect sports and the community.
"Legalising betting will definitely reduce fixing because the authorities will work in tandem with betting operators and not against them. The betting operators will not encourage match fixing as they would want to earn profits and will be answerable to the authorities."