India’s Push to Legalize Sport Betting Reaches Supreme Court

Posted on: May 2, 2017, 04:00h. 

Last updated on: May 2, 2017, 03:26h.

India’s Supreme Court is considering the question of legalizing sports betting. Last Friday, the court agreed to hear a Public Interest Litigation that pushes for the regulation of sports betting.

Balbir Singh Chauhan supports regulated sports betting in India
Balbir Singh Chauhan, a former Supreme Court Judge and chair of the Law Commission of India, has said he believes the country should legalize and regulate sports betting. (Image: Ravi Choudhary/Hindustan Times)

This would break a longstanding prohibition of sports betting in the country and amend the Public Gaming Act, an antique piece of legislation that dates from the early years of British rule in India and celebrates its 150th birthday this year.

Recent high-profile cases of match-fixing in Indian cricket, most notably in the India Premier League in 2013, have increased the clamor to develop a legal regulatory framework that would permit monitoring of betting so that potential match-fixing can be more effectively detected.

There’s also a growing push within India’s legal community to get the job done. The Law Commission of India is examining the question of sports betting and is expected to issue its recommendation shortly.

The commission’s chairman, Balbir Singh Chauhan, a former Supreme Court judge, has stated publicly that he is in favor.

Market Could be Worth $50 Billion

On Friday, Senior advocate Rupinder Singh Suri, arguing for the petitioner, said that the government could be missing out on $1.867 billion each year for its failure to license and tax sports betting, based on an estimation of the total sports betting market at $50 billion.    

“The calls for regulating betting have been made because unregulated betting is an immense loss to the country and also because regulation of this activity would enable the government to distinguish between harmless betting and corrupt activities like match-fixing,” he told the court.

“Regulating the existing system will weed out the undesirable elements in the betting business and will bring more credible and genuine players over whom the government can have more control. As the business is unregulated, its players indulge in shady transactions. It is accepted that there are huge crime syndicates and mafia that control these business. Most of these syndicates are not even managed from within the country.”

War Against Black Economy

The ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is no fan of gambling, but it is very much in favor of smashing the black market economy, which might give sports betting regulation a fighting chance.

The government is prepared to go to extreme measures to pursue this goal. Last November it announced with little warning that it would scrap 86 percent of all rupees in circulation, as part of a process of demonetization designed to stamp out tax evasion, corruption and terrorist financing.

High-denomination notes were summarily declared illegal tender, while citizens were given a small window in which to deposit their bills into a bank or post office, forcing them openly to declare money that may have been earned on the black economy or otherwise stashed away.

Gambling laws in India are usually left up to the individual states but are generally restrictive. Only three states currently permit any form of casino gambling, for example, Goa, Daman and Sikkim. Meanwhile, the small state of Nagaland has legalized online games of skill, which includes poker and rummy.