The debate surrounding the legalization of betting and gambling has been a long drawn one, right from the British legislation of the Public Gambling Act, 1867. It is very interesting to note that while the UK ultimately legalized gambling according to its Gambling Act of 2005, India still follows the 150-year-old colonial legislation that bans the same in the country. Gambling happens to be a subject falling under the state list by virtue of the 7th schedule of the Indian constitution under list II, thus allowing for several regulations within the same country, varying from state to state. For instance, the Nagaland Prohibition of Gambling and Promotion and Regulation of Online Games of Skill Act, 2015, clearly spells a ban on betting but at the same time issues regulatory measures to cater to advanced modes of games of skill like online gaming and digital currencies. So far, the only 3 Indian states to allow gambling include Goa, Sikkim and Daman & Diu. But what also stands out is that India does not have a standard definition for gambling, which makes it more ambiguous. In the bargain, activities like betting on horse racing, games of skill like Dream11, and lotteries do not fall under the ambit of gambling. This is also due to the non-revision of the pre-independence gambling act to suit present-day conditions like online gaming, leaving it to the subjective discretion of the Indian courts.
The concept of betting and gambling find mentions in our lives right from the mythological age of the Mahabharata, when the eldest of the Pandavas, Yudhishtira, gambled away his brothers and his wife in a state of pauperism. But what makes it the talk of the town today is the betting controversy of the Indian Premier League (IPL), an Indian cricketing format that came to light in 2013. The event revolved around multiple incidents connected to the ‘underworld bookies’, involving players and team owners that led to several arrests alongside the inception of a long judicial proceeding that still stands inconclusive in terms of objectivity. Since then, a lot has transpired in terms of the legitimacy of betting. Under Justice Mukul Mudgal, the setting up of the Mudgal Committee came as an immediate response to the scandal. Through the committee, Justice Mudgal widely backed the legalization of betting, in cricket specifically, claiming that it “will help in reducing spot-fixing and other illegal practices. The government will also be able to make money from it in the form of taxes.” Another committee set up under Justice RM Lodha, in relation to the case of Board of Control for Cricket in India v. Cricket Association of Bihar &Ors., “recommended the legalisation of betting (with strong safeguards), except for those covered by the BCCI and IPL regulations.” As well as match/spot-fixing to be made a criminal offence. Other than these committees, the 2018 Law Commission of India report as well as a Lok Sabha bill regarding online gaming have in a sense, contributed to the ‘legality of betting in India, owing to the lack of an official black letter law surrounding the same.
In a general consensus, the current view of the above discussed judicial findings leans slightly more in favour of the legalisation of betting, especially in the field of sports. This is due to its evident benefits such as a considerable decline in corrupt practices, a legitimate and active boost in the economy and curbing the menace of black money generation to a large extent. But this wasn’t the stance in the past. In a 1957 case of State of Bombay v. RMD Chamarbaugwala, the court opined that betting “encourages a spirit of the reckless propensity for making easy gain by luck or chance, which leads to the loss of hard-earned money and thereby lowers his standard of living and drives him into a chronic state of indebtedness and eventually disrupts the peace and happiness.”
The good and bad have coexisted since time immemorial, but betting has always been portrayed in a negative light linking it to corrupting man with vices such as greed and terming it as an act of sheer immorality. And it is only basic human nature that one shall resort to easier and more convenient ways of procuring more, such as betting, without it being linked to the ideals of morality. Thus, in the bargain, there have been attempts to label the act as criminal. But what goes unnoticed is the fact that “criminal law is usually invoked in cases involving a public wrong, causing harm or threat of harm to another person. However, in the case of betting, it is possible that two parties consensually enter into a betting arrangement, where one loses and the other wins, and there is no harm caused to anyone else.” 
Today with the advent of the digital space as well as more stringent regulations, the legalisation of betting seems like a much safer ‘bet’. Especially in a country like India, which is a hub of cricket and home to several other sports, yet on its way to fully tap its potential in sports actualization. It will not only bring in the much-needed revenue, which is otherwise lost in black, for a developing nation like ours but also revive the subtly tarnished spirit of sport in the light of such incredible scandal breakouts.
*The author is a law scholar from Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat.
(The image used here is for representational purposes only)
1. Mudgal for legalised betting, THE TELEGRAPH, (Feb. 20, 2016, 12:00 PM), https://www.telegraphindia.com/sports/mudgal-for-legalised-betting/cid/1335100#
2. Law Commission of India, Legal Framework: Gambling and Sports Betting including in Cricket in India, Report No. 276, (July 2018).
4. State of Bombay v. RMD Chamarbaugwala, AIR 1957 SC 699.
5. Raadhika Gupta, Legalising Betting in Sports: Some Reflections on Lawmaking, 48 EPW 13, 13 (2013).
· Mudgal for legalised betting, THE TELEGRAPH, (Feb. 20, 2016, 12:00 PM), https://www.telegraphindia.com/sports/mudgal-for-legalised-betting/cid/1335100#
· Law Commission of India, Legal Framework: Gambling and Sports Betting including in Cricket in India, Report No. 276, (July 2018).
· State of Bombay v. RMD Chamarbaugwala, AIR 1957 SC 699.
· Raadhika Gupta, Legalising Betting in Sports: Some Reflections on Lawmaking, 48 EPW 13 (2013).