Legalise, regulate betting, gambling

Police shows a machine used in betting by the bookie Sonu Jalan, who was arrested for allegedly threatening Bollywood actor Arbaaz Khan, in Thane, Mumbai on Saturday, June 02, 2018. Khan allegedly lost Rs. 2.80 crore to, Sonu Jalan, in bets on IPL.

The Law Commission has said it has recommended a ban on betting in sports, gambling and lotteries. This is wrong. These activities should be legalised and regulated. The Supreme Court had told the Law Commission in 2016 to study the matter in the wake of charges of match fixing in the cricket IPL. Two decades ago, the top court had legalised betting on horse races, terming horse-racing a game of skill. That logic must be extended to all sports. The ban on betting and gambling has its roots in morality, but it has only succeeded in criminalising them and driving them underground. India’s betting industry was estimated to be worth Rs 30,000 crore in 2013. Because the business is illegal, the money involved in it is black money. The Law Commission, headed by retired Justice B S Chauhan, has left a window open by suggesting that betting and gambling are state subjects and so they may enact legislation to legalise them. The Centre can provide a model law for the purpose. Some forms of betting and gambling are, in fact, legal in Goa. 

The advantages are many. It will make the businesses normal legal activities and boost revenues and tourism. Jobs will be created. Many malpractices associated with illegal betting and gambling, like black money and corruption, can be reduced. Casinos can bring in foreign direct investment. Individual and social behaviour become distorted when moral ideas are made state policies. In a democracy, people should be able to make their own choices and are responsible for their decisions. Bans on ‘vices’, as in the case of drinking, do more harm than good. There is also the view that freedom of choice will reduce the attraction for ‘vices’. However, the commission has suggested that safeguards and regulations may need to be put in place. It wants betting to be under the control of the State and minors and economically weaker sections to be disallowed from participation. It is doubtful if such restrictions can be effectively implemented. 

Betting and gambling are legal in many countries, where they have become important business activities. They have created a large number of jobs in the UK and are a major source of revenue for the State. They have not created any law and order problems. In the US, too, it is a well-run business and many states utilise the revenues for charitable and welfare activities. There are regulations and licensing and zoning restrictions, but it is a business activity worth billions of dollars. The experiences of other countries can serve as useful guides for legalising and regulating betting and gambling in India. 

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