In a country where legal betting is confined to horse racing and casinos, illegal betting syndicates continue to thrive and a 2013 betting scandal led to two-year bans on Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings last year.
Amid the demons of match-fixing that continue to haunt cricket, the Supreme Court-appointed Lodha committee has recommended the legalisation of betting in Indian cricket alongside structural changes within the BCCI to ensure more transparency in its operation.
"We have suggested to the legislature for legalising betting with in-built mechanism and ensuring that players, match officials, administrator and team officials will not be entitled to indulge in betting," Justice (Retd.) RM Lodha, who headed the panel, said.
The Lodha committee's suggestion has been hailed by cricket administrators and lawmakers alike. If acted upon, the move will not only help in curbing corruption but it will also allow the government to earn revenues to the tune of a staggering Rs 10,000-12,000 crore (assuming 30 per cent rate taxation on earnings).
To determine the fate of the Lodha committee's recommendation on betting, Catch spoke to Justice Mukul Mudgal, former Indian cricketer Abbas Ali Baig and spin maestro Erappali Prasanna:A boon for Indian cricket
The Lodha committee's recommendation on making sports betting legal in India has found supported by former cricketers and even lawmakers. The suggestion has been hailed as a much-needed step to eradicate the evils of match and spot fixing in cricket.
Justice Mudgal was positive about the recommendation on betting, "It is absolutely necessary to make sports betting legal in the country. I had recommended the same thing in my IPL report earlier. It will help in cleaning up the game."
"It's a good step and should have been done a long time ago. Cricket has started attracting a lot of money, especially with the cash-rich IPL and other tournaments. Such influx of money has not only allowed the cricketers to earn more, but it also tempts them make some more on the sidelines, prompting them to break the rules. Making sports betting legal will instill the fear of getting caught, especially for the players," former Indian batsman Abbas Ali Baig said.
Former Indian spinner Erappali Prasanna believes, "The move is a much-needed step to target and hopefully diminish the corruption in Indian cricket. I completely support the cause of making sports betting legal in India."More revenue for the government
According to the experts and people manning illegal betting outfits, close to 400 million pounds are being bet on a cricket series. Despite betting being illegal, the government has not been able to curb it. However, the move to make it legal will surely provide lucrative revenues to the government.
"A lot of revenue will be generated for the government and more importantly it's not going to be used by the underworld or mafias to fund terrorism, prostitution and other social evils," former Indian batsman Abbas Ali Baig said.
Justice Mudgal believes, "It brings out money to the white. On a 10-20 per cent taxation, the turnover would be huge for the government which can be used for the betterment of the sport."Reducing the role of underworld
The experts believe that by making betting legal in sports, the government will not only be able to earn lucrative revenues but it will also be able to clamp down on the mafia and the underworld who use the money to fund terrorism, drug syndicates and prostitution.
"Despite betting being illegal in India, the government has not really been able to stop the illegal syndicates from operating. The black money generated by illegal betting makes the underworld and mafias stronger. This step (making sports betting legal) will help in tackling those problems,"Justice Mudgal.
Former Indian cricketer Abbas Ali Baig said, "If the betting is made legal, then all the bookies and agencies will come under the purview of the law and the government will be able to monitor the money."Will it work
While welcoming the Lodha committee's recommendation on betting, many experts are more skeptical about legalisation alone being helpful to crack down on corruption in cricket.
"Making sports betting legal in India will not really stop the corruption. Though it will continue to exist, the step to legalise betting should reduce it considerably," Justice Mudgal said.
Former Indian cricketer Abbas Ali Baig shares the same thought: "Corruption will co-exist even if betting is legalised. But I think it will come down significantly if a federation or an association can be formed to monitor it closely."
"Betting has been made legal in US and UK for quite sometime now. But, has the corruption stopped there? There are also laws for murder, but have they stopped happening?" asked former Indian spinner Erapalli Prasanna.But who will bell the cat?
While we discuss the benefits of making sports betting legal in the country, the most important question is how does one take this recommendation forward? The BCCI or the Supreme Court cannot possibly make sports betting legal in the country, it has to be the law ministry of the government of India.
In 2013, the then Union Law Minister Kapil Sibal was elated to submit the draft of a Prevention of Sporting Fraud Bill to the sports ministry, which was to be introduced in Parliament. But despite the debate that ensued about the legalisation of sports betting as part of a larger mechanism to clamp down on match-fixing, Sibal denied that there was any plan to regulate legal sports betting.
The Prevention of Sporting Fraud Bill itself is yet to see the light of day.