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In the aftermath of the sensational 2013 spot-fixing scandal, the cash-rich Indian Premier League (IPL) didn't just lose it's credibility, but it also lost the faith and support of the cricket fans in a country where the sport is considered a religion.
The incident led to the suspension of Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings, while the calls for structural reforms in the BCCI to clean up the game started doing the rounds. The idea of making sports betting legal in the country also came to fore, but it wasn't considered seriously until the Supreme Court-appointed Lodha Committee came up with the recommendation.
Betting is not really illegal in India, considering the colonial law of the Public Gambling Act, 1867 that prohibited all kinds of gambling prior to 1947, has been defunct. Also, the 7th schedule in the Indian constitution gives the states the power to create their own laws regarding betting.
While responding to a petition seeking to outlaw betting on horse racing in 1996, the Supreme Court ruled that it was legal as racing involves 'skill' rather than leaving things to pure chance. Considering that, cricket, too, involves the skill of its players, there should be no real objection to legal betting on cricket. So, what seems to be the problem here?
In order to understand the technicalities of making sports betting legal in the country, Catch spoke to Justice Rajendra Mal Lodha who believes the move is the need of the hour:
While explaining the principle reason behind their recommendation for making sports betting legal in India, Justice RM Lodha said, "The illegal betting syndicates are largely operated by mafias and the underworld which results in a lot of black money being floated. By legalising betting in sports, the government will be able to put an end to the activities of the illegal betting syndicates who use this money to fund social evils."
On the other hand, he explains: "We've reached a stage where the young students are being lured into betting by illegal syndicates which endangers their life and spoils their careers. We have not been able to stop illegal betting and it's high time we take some drastic steps to at least diminish it's effect, if not stop it completely."
Sports betting, if legalised in India, will not only help the government to curb corruption and keep a check on the black money, but it will also help in generating lucrative revenues which can be used for the betterment of sports.
"Betting in sports is touted to be a billion dollar industry. Once legalised in India, the government stands to earn a lucrative amount in revenues which can be further used for the development of sports in the country.
Take the example of England or even the US. Sports betting has not only helped their government to generate the much-needed revenue, but it also provides job opportunities to the country's population. India can learn from the same and move forward in its fight against corruption," Justice Lodha said.
The recommendation of making sports betting legal in India has attracted a lot of support but there have been serious doubts about it's implementation in the country. Justice Lodha shows us the way: "In order to make this happen, we have suggested that only those betting houses with a valid license be allowed to indulge or host bets.
Apart from the betting houses, we have also recommended that the individuals placing the bets should also have a license to do so. Both the doer and the provider should have a valid license to indulge in betting. In case of a violation of the regulations, the license is liable to be terminated."
"A regulatory body should also be put in place to monitor the licensing activities. That's how it is supposed to work," Justice Lodha concluded.
Speaking about the possible difficulties for making sports betting legal in India, Justice Lodha said: "We as judges never think of challenges. If there's any challenge, it should be decided on judicial parameters. The court is going to assess the ground of challenges and take a call on that."
"But, betting in Horse racing is legal in the country since it involves skill rather than leaving things to pure chance. In the same way, cricket is also a game of skill where the efforts and performances of each and every player decides the outcome of the match. Considering that, I don't see any problem as to why we cannot legalise betting in cricket then," he added.
Apart from the legalities on the subject, Justice Lodha was positive that the move will only benefit the cricket fan and bring the long-lost faith back to the game. "In a country like India, there's barely any individual who doesn't watch or follow cricket. I, too, enjoy watching cricket matches whenever I can.
The incidents of corruption in a sport which is followed by the majority of population in the country will not only bring a bad name to the sport but it'll also hurt the sentiments of many. That is exactly why our report is solemnly derived from a fan's perspective. The entire report resolves around the interest of a cricket fan," he said.