Time to regulate online betting in Cricket?

Online betting is a multi-billion dollar industry in the country, yet governing bodies are unable to regulate and tap into the revenue, Patriot takes a look 


Why don’t we see people putting money on Indian Premier League games at every nook and corner of India? Why don’t we see cases of people getting broke or even resorting to extreme steps like suicide after falling into bookies’ trap of so-called “exciting” (read manipulated) matches?

Despite the Supreme Court-appointed Justice Lodha committee coming out in public and suggesting making betting “legal” in India in 2015, the Indian govt or Parliament has refused to address this growing menace in Indian society. Just like the way states having prohibition ignore the “organised mafia” controlled by big names to make quick and big, with IPL now being held in UAE, the business of cricket betting is open in the streets of Dubai. Going by an estimate of last season, more than 5000 Indian bookies (small and big times) were in Dubai to run this betting syndicate during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The numbers are much higher this time around because the Covid-related restrictions have been largely lifted by the UAE government. Forget what’s happening in Dubai, the business of betting has increased many fold even in India with several Indian local betting sites joining hands with the Indian Cricket Board (BCCI) by using loopholes in our legal system. One such company, Dream11, the fantasy sports app was even formally brought into the cricket family by Indian Cricket Board last year by signing a “title sponsorship deal for IPL 2020 season”.

And guess who was promoting this company… None other than India’s most successful cricket captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Not to forget that Dhoni’s name had also allegedly cropped up during the SC hearing on spot-fixing when a sealed envelope was handed over to the apex court with 13 names of alleged match-fixers. 


BCCI, a sitting duck

Fantasy cricket is becoming bigger day by day in India and Dream11 controls around 90 % share of the market. Other players include My11 Circle and MyTeam11. And all these platforms have signed cricket icons to promote their cause amongst the masses. The rot in the BCCI has gone to such an extent that even sitting president and former skipper Sourav Ganguly is the brand ambassador of My11 Circle, apart from former dashing opener Virender Sehwag and current skipper Virat Kohli promoting MyTeam11 and Mobile Premier League, respectively.

That’s why when scandal-ridden IPL was taken to UAE, the den of cricket gambling, in 2020, the news was celebrated with joy by the illegal betting world. Subsequently, the BCCI decided to remove anti-corruption officers attached to each team in the 2020 edition. This decision was certainly in utter disregard for the apex court’s decision on the Lodha Committee Recommendations, which specifically directed for attaching integrity officers with each IPL team. 

The justification given for such breach was the presence of “bio-bubble” owing to the Covid pandemic. But no one bothered to answer that “if players or match officials were secured inside a bio-bubble then what stopped anti-corruption officers from being present there. That certainly showed the BCCI’s lack of seriousness in tackling corruption in one of the most expensive sports leagues in the world. 

That’s why many cricket lovers have approached the various courts of law in India to ban online gambling. Their main plea is that “this is a large market without regulation plagued with irresponsible gambling and fraudulent activities”. Even a matter related to Dream11 allegedly evading GST to the tune of Rs 2,500 crores is pending in the SC.

BCCI, however, has failed to check the influence of online gaming (read gambling) in India. The cricket board has even failed to put a robust system to check the menace of spot-fixing or wrongdoings in the system. 

The BCCI’s ACU (Anti Corruption Unit) has also failed miserably in dealing with the menace. When a section of media reported during the 2011 World Cup that a known bookie was made local manager of Team India in Delhi, there was no action taken against the alleged bookie and the same even continues to be associated with the Delhi & District Cricket Association (DDCA).

Vinod Tihara, the current DDCA secretary spent two months behind bars after being booked by the DRI for allegedly fraudulent evasion along with various other charges of GST violation PHOTO: DDCA.in

And if you are still not shaken by all that is being written till now, then hold on to your breath and read this next sentence. 

Current DDCA secretary Vinod Tihara spent two months behind bars after being booked by the DRI (Directorate of Revenue Intelligence) in March for allegedly fraudulent evasion along with various other charges of GST violation. And don’t be surprised if he wins again (has already filed his nominations for the same post) under the banner of Arun Jaitley’s son, Rohan Jaitley, in the elections scheduled later this month (October 2021).


Need to change ‘irrelevant laws’

The gambling laws in India, the Public Gaming Act of 1877, are among the most irrelevant globally. The law was amended later in 1996, which states that: 

  1. It is prohibited to operate casinos of Indian registration.
  2. It is illegal to visit a gambling house. 
  3. It is prohibited to participate in any gambling or betting activity.
  4. It is legal to bet on games of skill.

In 1996, some adjustments regarding betting on horse races. It became legal since it’s skill-based. But then cricket is also a technical game that requires different skills. How could horse racing be legally based on this while cricket is illegal?

Since the internet didn’t exist till the 1980s, there was no way to include online betting-related issues in the law. Subsequently, no new law has been introduced to date regarding online gambling and in a way “it is acceptable to participate in online gambling”. Many online casinos registered off the shores of India have taken advantage of “these allowing players” to bet without fear of prosecution.

Going by a FICCI report of 2012, illegal or underground betting was estimated to be worth around Rs 300000 crores. This is almost the same as the budget for the defence of India. In 2018, the market was worth $130 billion.


Make it legal

As suggested by Justice Lodha panel, the legalisation of sports betting comes with several benefits including revenue that could boost the Indian economy. Already three states, Odisha, Assam and Telangana, have banned online gambling. This simply means that “no one can play or register for any online gaming from these states”. However, there is hardly any evidence that this ban has brought any significant change in the betting pattern in those states.

According to one report, online betting sites in India made a gross revenue of more than Rs 900 crores in 2019. It crossed the Rs 2000 crores in 2020, while the industry was predicted to make more than Rs 3000 crores during the 2021 IPL season which for some reason was suspended in India and later was rescheduled in the UAE. Additionally, the government would be able to protect players, preventing loss of money and irresponsible gambling. 

This comes in the aftermath of the 2013 spot-fixing scandal that rocked the IPL. For the record, some three Indian cricket players were arrested and subsequently banned for a few years. Like it had happened after the 1999 match-fixing scandal, all those banned either got relief by various courts for the lack of proper law or being rehabilitated by BCCI later on for one pretext or the other.

Though, one should understand that legalisation of betting would not prevent teams or players from playing “dirty”, but yes, it would reduce black market betting among other things. 

(Cover: IPLT20.com)


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Chander Shekhar Luthra
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