September 5, 2010

legalise sports betting?

The recent massive match-fixing by Pakistani cricketers in England has raised the question whether betting in sports should be legalised in India. Betting is legal in Britain but obviously not the fixing of a match or specific actions by players for the sake of betting. In India and many other countries, betting per se is illegal.

The first thing about betting is that it is socially undesirable. It is a vice, an addiction, that pushes people to the lure of quick money. It has the potential to make children and adults addicted to it and to ruin homes. When people lose money, and all punters end up losing money, there is the tendency to bet more to recover the loss. This vicious cycle breeds crime and further ruining of homes. It is also a fact of human nature that people are lured to addictions if they find them accessible and without social stigma. So the argument is, keep the ban on betting.

Yet, such vices [include here irresponsible drinking and prostitution] do exist in the societies that ban them. In such cases, there is every possibility that criminal gangs / mafia fill the void and let people enjoy the forbidden fruit. For the sake of their business, they pull the addicts further into their net by loaning money 'in time of need', forcing them to bring more customers and threats. The mafia then channelize the money into drug, smuggling and even terrorism. We have had bad experience of prohibition wherever we tried it.

So, legalisation of betting, kike legal sale of alcoholic drinks, cigarettes and state lotteries, looks a sensible way out. It would reduce, not eliminate, illegal betting and generate huge revenues for the government. Perhaps the golden mean would be to legalise betting with enough checks and balances. A media campaign must be constantly mounted to dissuade people from indulging in reckless betting. Horse racing is a case in point. In a legal way [or it might be illegal in strict sense of law], sponsors of sports and popular soaps on TV do invite SMSs to guess the best scorer, choose the best character and so on.

Even if the government is itself convinced and is able to convince the civil society that legalising sports [and other?] betting is better than banning in, the drafting of law and its passage would take at least a couple of years.

The last word.
Though the arguments in favour of legalising betting seem to score over banning it, I am doubtful if in practice it would make good sense. It might give us a new breed of corrupt inspectors, casinos [if they are also allowed] that serve titillation in the name of legal betting, anti-social people cornering betting licences, checks and balances being given a go bye.

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