The state of gambling in India

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The state of gambling in India

The state of gambling in India

Apr 26, 2019 03:10:19 PM (IST)

The state of gambling in India-1

Recent events have reawakened a decades-long conversation in India: Is it in the country’s best interests to legalize and regulate gambling activities? Last year, the Law Commission released a gambling report that was mistakenly interpreted by various news entities as being in full support of legalized gambling. Firstpost reports on how the Law Commission responded, clarifying that "It has been strongly and categorically recommended that legalizing betting and gambling in the present scenario is not desirable and that a complete ban on unlawful betting and gambling must be ensured."

At the same time, however, the commission stated that if it’s impossible to impose a total ban, the only viable way for the state to control gambling would be to impose regulations. This report is titled, 'Legal Framework: Gambling and Sports Betting including Cricket in India', and it includes safeguards and guidelines which are only to be used if and when the state decides in favour of controlled gambling. It was made in response to the often fraudulent odds that illegal Indian gambling entities present on a regular basis, due to the lack of government regulation. So, while it was ultimately made clear that legal gambling was 'not recommended', the whole debate also reintroduced some of the long-standing points regarding the possible benefits of legalization with government regulation. 

Following the report, Congress Spokesperson Manish Tewari laid out several reasons why legalized gambling would be a bad idea. “If you legalize betting in sports, you will not only spoil the sports but also turn every ‘paan ki dukaan’ into a ‘juye ka adda.” Tewari went on to explain how gambling has impoverished and ruined Indian families, and would, in his view, also ruin Indian sports by creating more match-fixing and other related problems.

Tewari certainly has a point in hinting at the problematic nature of Indian gambling as it exists today. And it does exist, with or without legal status. According to some sources, the gambling industry in India is already worth some $60 billion (₹4,2 trillion) annually. This is despite limited legal gambling venues and an undeveloped online sports betting industry.

Unlike in the UK, where regulated sports betting sites are common and first-timers are even given matching deposit bonuses to make their first bets without risking their own money, India's online gambling scene is fraught with risks and complications. While the UK is something of a model for such businesses, unverified and unregulated operators make up the bulk of the industry in India; it's neither accessible nor inviting for new bettors. In short, while some other countries around Asia have taken steps toward more gambling legalization and regulation in recent years, this sort of activity in India still happens behind closed doors, and on unreliable websites. 

Still, everything from that $60 billion number to the gambling raids that happened earlier this year indicates that Indians are always willing and able to find ways to gamble - even in the face of zero regulation and government crackdowns. The argument can be made that legalizing gambling would turn this around to some degree, ultimately making it safer to gamble. This is not to say everything would be perfect, but it is a fair counter to the government's current stance perhaps.

In short, the state of gambling in India is a nuanced, and a still unsettled debate. Only time will tell if the state will open up to gambling-related legislation, and whether or not such legislation will help Indians in the long run.