India should take a gamble


India and Australia are considering the question of gambling but from very different angles. India could do well to learn from this and make some bold changes to its gambling laws and allow internet and other gambling

Australia and India seems to have a huge ocean separating them. The two countries seem to have absolutely nothing in common and yet, when least expected, some links come up that seem almost doctored. Look at the way Australia Day and India’s Republic Day happen to fall on the same day – January 26. The latest one that comes to mind is sport and gambling. It’s not a link as much as a juxtaposition of two opposing points of view regarding the same.

Indian media has been awash with reports of the Indian Premier League betting scandal and how the integrity of the IPL has suffered as a result. Coincidentally, at the exact same time, the Australian media was replete with stories of gambling becoming a problem, an epidemic, according to one leading newspaper. There was no reference to gambling affect the course of a game but the focus was on gambling as an addiction.

So while one country (India) is contemplating a change to betting laws to legalise it, we have another that is considering greater government intervention to curtail the pervasive gambling culture.

So the issues at stake here are the integrity of the game, the effect on society, regulation and most important, the bottom line which are the billions that are involved.

In India, the argument could not be stronger for legalising gambling in the wake of the latest spot-fixing scandal. However, IPL as an organisation failed to set up a regulatory framework that could have prevented this. At the moment, there is no transparency and there is definitely no accountability in IPL and no one seems to be doing much to fix either of these problems in any meaningful way. Legalising of gambling and setting up regulatory frameworks within the IPL and other games would have to go hand in hand.

In Australia, gambling is an integral part of the culture. Even with such a long history, the system is strictly regulated and any betting inconsistencies could be traced. The systems are in place. The fact that gambling companies are willing to push the envelope and their advertising dollar onto prime time TV is a sign of the money involved. However, when they do this, the government is equally empowered to control or contain the sway they hold over media networks. Or so it seems. Either way, there seems to be a method here and not so much a madness.

However, the reality remains that while an AFL player may want to forgo the chance to make a quick buck in favour of a lucrative footy career, can the same be said of Indian cricket? With the flourishing black-market and corruption, most players are probably calculating to get the windfall as well as the lucrative and legitimate career.

Regulating and legalising the gambling and betting would definitely improve the situation.

This is where the comparisons won’t be very fair. The societies and issues they face are worlds apart. Gambling, drinking and related issues are real for Australians and the government is at pains to control, regulate and fight against them. For India, they are mostly peripheral issues. They are the problems that the government could not possibly get involved in and find a solution to or make a difference.

In India, gambling is illegal with a few exceptions such as horse racing and rummy. It has always been that way. However, in India, the amount of money involved is so mind-boggling that the government is being pushed from all sides to legalise it.

According to estimates we are looking at an industry that is said to be anywhere between $5 and $60 billion and the tax revenue from this would be in the billions. Then come the related benefits of creating jobs as well as bringing in overseas investments as any foreign investor would have to have an Indian as partner.

The strongest case for arguing in favour would be that ordinary Indians are doing it regardless. Cricket is already popular and with increased internet access and gambling in other games such as soccer and Foumula One is gaining momentum.

Choice is quite clear. Regulating gambling, updating defunct legislation and embracing the trend that the country is following will result in high tax revenues, more jobs and foreign investment.

One lesson we could learn from the Australian experience is to make sure gambling does not become a problem for families. Also, we need to ensure that there are anti-corruption laws in place should there be illegal activities. This would provide those who place bets to do so in a safe and legal environment.

We cannot afford to be prudish about this market where the players are strong and the advantages many.

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