The vastly popular Indian Premier League has been castigated. Behind-the-scene betting and match-fixing scandals have tarnished the image of cricket in general and IPL in particular. Betting and gambling in India is a punishable offence even if government-run lotteries are legal. This looks like a dichotomy. Because, encouraging people to buy lottery tickets is very close to gambling but the convoluted provisions of the Indian Penal Code make the lotteries legal. There are only a few winners in lottery but since the tickets are prized low, the huge loss is shared by millions. Horse racing is a gambling activity but it is allowed by the IPC. However the events at different race-courses across are shunned by the general media. An ordinary citizen is kept away from visiting horse-racing events because of social stigma. It is very funny indeed because betting tickets for public at a race-course are not prized so high.
Unlike elsewhere in the world, betting is not permitted in India because it is not legal. That brings us to the issue of legal and illegal betting. Here is the real difference. Illegal betting is a punishable offence all over the world, whether it concerns sports or not. Legal betting, on the other hand, is allowed in 80% countries of the world. In India, the term betting itself is illegal because of non-existence of any legal betting. From time to time, there have been clamors in India in favor of institutionalizing legal betting routes but the steadfast societal belief against gambling has come in the way. What Gurunath Maiyappan and Raj Kundra did was patently illegal and they would have been punished anywhere else in the world as well. Their activities have brought the game of cricket in disrepute and Mr Lodha’s report is laudable on that count. Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals have been banned for two years and how the next IPL format will look like is anybody’s guess. Having said that, let us look at legal betting in sport from a different angle.
The May 2, 2015 boxing bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao is a case in point. Mayweather and Pacquiao were not the only winners in the end. More than $80 million were put as bets for the big fight and several Americans benefitted from the wager. Exceeding this figure was the famous Kentucky Derby, where $133 million in USA alone were wagered on the race. Millions of dollars are wagered on football games all over the world but money spent on legal sports betting is nothing compared to the estimated size of annual sports betting worldwide. The range of betting on all forms of sports globally falls between $226 billion to $560 billion, which on the high end works out to about $1.5 billion every day. These figures includes all forms of betting; legal or illegal and it shows illegal betting far exceeds the legal figure, which was around $58 billion in 2013. This figure itself is growing at the annual rate of 5.4% and it could reach $78 billion by 2016. Therefore, unregulated betting is far too high in comparison. The reality is that on the legal side alone, the global sports betting economy is four times larger than the sports economy itself. But no one cares so long as the wagering is transparent, strictly monitored, well-regulated and taxable.
Illegal betting poses serious threat to the integrity of sport. Maiyappan and Kundra used their IPL franchises as vehicles for their wrongdoing. While Kundra himself indulged in illegal betting in collusion with Vindu Dara Singh and other bookies, he couldn’t have controlled Rajasthan Royals players, Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankit Chavhan from illegal spot-fixing in 2013. These three were arrested in Mumbai during IPL 2013 and cases are pending against them. Worldwide, illegal betting is a criminal enterprise and black market gambling syndicates are controlled by an organized crime mafia. The money so collected often results in funding far more dangerous activities. As per a research conducted by Sorbonne and International Centre for Sport Security, about $140 billion annually is laundered through illegal sports betting.
Illegal betting in sports is not merely a concern for global law enforcement agencies but it undermines the psyche of an ordinary sports fan since it undercuts the foundation of integrity, fairness, clean competition and uncertain outcomes. Every race, fight, game and match becomes a market to be potentially manipulated. It is hoped that by the time the next IPL gets underway, authorities would have ensured that no one is allowed to tamper with the spirit of cricket and other sports. Whether or not, the Indian government could bring in institutionalized betting, no individual should be allowed to indulge in behind-the-door machinations. No one wants more Maiyappans or Kundras.