Should sports betting be made legal?

NEW DELHI: This year’s Indian Premier League proved to be an expose of the kind of rot that has set into what was once touted as the gentleman’s game. With the who’s who of cricket and entertainment dragged into the murky world of betting and spot-fixing, not to mention two cricketers banned for life, the focus has shifted to the possibility of legalising and regulating sports betting.

At the two-day ‘Conference on Regulating Sports Betting and Sports Law’ organised by FICCI recently, experts from different walks of life, through a consensus resolution, called for stringent laws to curb fraud and doping in sports.

Inaugurating the meet, former Punjab and Haryana Chief Justice and Chairman of the Supreme Court Probe Panel into the IPL 2013 Betting and Spot Fixing Scandal, Mukul Mudgal, said the time had come to stop debating whether there was a need to regulate sports betting or not. Justice Mudgal said that besides doping, one of the biggest threats to the integrity of sports was sporting fraud, which includes match fixing, spot fixing, tanking and point shaving among others.

His reasons for favouring regulation included: the government would earn substantial revenue from taxing sports betting, the unauthorised manner in which betting was currently taking place was a threat to the integrity of sports and sportspersons, some grass root sports programs could very well use the money generated, unauthorised betting was a source of revenue for hardened criminals, and law-abiding citizens were getting unnecessarily exposed to such anti-social elements.

Justice Mudgal opined that the rate at which winnings from betting were to be taxed could be decided by the government and that 20 per cent would not be high, considering that in some jurisdictions like Austria and UK, the taxation rate is up to 28 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively.

olicitor General of India N Viswanathan added: "There are pros and cons involved in legalising and regulating betting but before that, the Government should set up an Independent Regulatory Commission to study the various aspects in depth and come out with a solution, keeping in mind the elimination of book makers.”

Alex Ward, Vice President Commonwealth Lawyers Association said: "The concern in Australia about the results of gambling and betting isn’t as much as the concern about corruption, doping and match fixing. India should legalise and regulate rather than prevent betting. By regulating like in Australia, the central and state government can get more revenue for development of sports. In India, there are some social and ethical problems unlike in Australia."

Carl Rohsler, Partner in Squire Sanders (UK), LLP, and International Gambling Laws Expert said that India had a choice about whether to regulate certain forms of gambling or not. “One thing that I would like to see is a survey of gambling in India - to try to gain some understanding of the numbers involved. I would also recommend the creation of some kind of committee to formally address issues related to gambling - in order to be a repository of information and knowledge not only about gambling in India but gambling all around the world. FICCI has done a great deal to start the debate - but it cannot be expected to shoulder the whole burden. The time has come for more formal support. I stress that this is not support of gambling, but support of finding out about gambling," he said. Among the reasons he gave for regulating gambling: the first was to protect society from harm; second to facilitate movement of money from the illegitimate to legitimate sector; third, the government was responsible for operating gambling in an honest, appropriate and transparent manner; fourth, match fixers and money launderers would find it difficult to operate in a regulated market; and finally, illegitimate operators would be kept out of such a market.

Dr A Didar Singh, Secretary General, FICCI, pointed out that with an estimated $600 million betting market in India and a possible 20 per cent tax rate on profit from betting, it would rake in revenue to the tune of $ 120-190 million for the exchequer. He said the moot question of course was whether sports betting could be regulated in India like in other countries in order to aid sports development. Singh gave the example of lottery as a regulated business in India. “While there are no authentic figures about all the states in India because of the different methods adopted for accounting of lottery receipts, it is reliably learnt that a state like Kerala is getting net revenue of Rs 682 crores (FY 2012-13) through the medium of lotteries. It has been estimated that the potential revenue for all the states from lotteries would not be less than Rs10000 to Rs12000 crore a year,” he said.

Meanwhile, Solicitor General of India Mohan Parasaran, in his key note speech during the session on 'Threat to Integrity of Sports: Match Fixing and Doping' said there had been extensive discussions between the ministries of sports, and law and youth affairs, regarding drafting modern laws on sports betting with a proposal to bring in stand-alone legislation on the subject. He said ‘The Prevention of Sporting Fraud Bill 2013’ was a step in that direction and had been drafted only after studying the laws of different countries including Denmark, Finland and Germany among others.

Senior criminal advocate K T S Tulsi, in his key note address during the session on International efforts to curb sporting fraud:  Information gathering, Regulatory structure, Criminal Law and Courts said: “After the Indian Premier League fiasco, there is a big hue and cry regarding the amendments in sports law and inclusion of issues such as criminalization of sports, invoking criminal law for match fixing and betting, and strengthening of anti-doping laws but, in an effort to clean up sports, sportsmen should not be made scapegoats. Criminal law should be invoked only where a guilty intent is proved and players should not be liable of match fixing and doping on mere presumption. There should be strong evidence to prove a player’s involvement as once an allegation is made in the media, it has a tendency to stick even in the absence of any proof and the player becomes victim to a media trial even before being declared guilty by the courts. At the same time, legalizing betting would be a step in the right direction as this will ensure transparency and lead to removal of corruption from sports, which is the need of the hour.”

Former Attorney General of India Soli Sorabjee said during the same session: “Betting is a natural human instinct, which is inherent to human beings - it should not be denied and time demands that it should be discussed seriously to come out with the solutions to match fixing.”

Expectedly, former Sri Lankan Cricket Team Captain Arjuna Ranatunga, spoke on behalf of players: “There is a need for creating awareness and sensitising players on the consequences of doping and other sports frauds,” he said.  

According to him, match fixers often do not catch top players but look out for smaller fish in top teams. On the subject of doping, he said that players coming from rural areas are not aware about the ill effects of doping and are innocent. So they need to be sensitised about various drugs and their consequences.

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