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Legalise betting and criminalise fixing, says Indian law-reform body

The IPL corruption scandal might yield something of a positive outcome if it results in progress towards the legalisation of betting in India Raveendran / © AFP/Getty Images

The Law Commission of India (LCI) has agreed with the Lodha Committee report that match-fixing of any kind in sport, including cricket, should be a criminal offence carrying significant punishment. Calling gambling and betting two sides of the same coin, the LCI - a body instituted by the government to look into legal reform - has recommended to the Indian government that it consider regulating betting and gambling activities as against imposing a complete prohibition.

On Thursday, the LCI published the findings in a report titled "Legal Framework: Gambling and Sports Betting including in Cricket in India", which has been submitted to the Indian government to take a final call. In its various recommendations, the LCI also noted: "Match-fixing and sports fraud should be specifically made criminal offences with severe punishments."

The LCI, which comprises several lawmakers and is headed by Justice BS Chauhan, was pushed into action by the Lodha Committee which had recommended legalising betting in its final report in 2016. The Lodha Committee had said that the LCI was the appropriate body to consider enacting any such law. "Having discussed the pros and cons of legalising regulated gambling and betting activities, it would be apt to say that the arguments in favour of the same far outweigh the arguments alluding to the immorality of these activities," the LCI said in its report.

The question of legalising betting in cricket came to the fore after the Mudgal Committee, appointed to probe the 2013 IPL corruption scandal, pointed out that investigative agencies "lament" the absence of "proper tools" to detect sports fraud. Legalising betting, the agencies told the Mudgal Committee, would "reduce the involvement of black money, and the influence of underworld".

There is already a draft bill for the prevention of sporting fraud that was made in 2013, but it has not been acted on by any government yet. The draft bill covers the definition of sporting fraud, the perpetrators and the punishment - which can extend to five years of imprisonment, a fine of INR 10 lakh or five times the benefit derived from the sporting fraud.

During its research, which involved speaking to various legal experts, business leaders, members of the media, the state associations, and the general public including students, the LCI found "the straitjacket prohibition" on gambling had resulted in a "rampant" increase in illegal gambling, which consequently was responsible for the "boom" in the creation and circulation of black money. "It is obvious that betting and corruption in sports, especially cricket, is rampant throughout the world. It has reached a point where the State machinery is finding it difficult to completely curb it. Guided by this realisation, one possible way out would be to legalise sports betting, which would go a long way in regulating and controlling the same, while also earning huge revenues by taxing it. In fact, countries like Australia, United Kingdom, South Africa, Sri Lanka and New Zealand have taken a step in this direction, legalising and regulating betting in sports."

Incidentally, Prof S Sivakumar, one of the LCI members who prepared the report, did not agree that legalising gambling was the solution. Sivakumar's argument was that gambling is treated as a social stigma in India. "The socio-economic and cultural circumstances of the country are not pragmatic to accept legalised gambling activities, as it is still treated as a social stigma," Sivakumar said at the end of the LCI report.

According to Sivakumar "vested interests" wanted gambling and betting legalised for "amassing money clandestinely", but that would only leave the "innocent masses to hands of poverty and penury". Sivakumar blamed the Lodha Committee for failing to acknowledge that aspect. "The Lodha Committee report has not considered the socio-economic condition in the country. With widespread poverty prevalent in India, to me, the present condition in the country is not ripe for legalising betting in sports."