As shocking as it sounds, gambling could soon become legit. The Law Commission, in a report to the government, has recommended legalising sports betting and gambling. With the greater acceptance of liberal values in India, it’s harder to support a moralistic ban.
The role of gambling in revenue generation is not new, even during Kautilya’s era gambling was a state-regulated industry with a 5% tax on winnings. Once upon a time gambling with dice games was very common in India. The origin of gambling in India can be traced back to ancient texts. In the Mahabharata, Yudhisthira lost his whole fortune during a dice game– a defeat which forced the five Pandava brothers and their wife to go into exile.
The stakes aren’t usually that high, but dice was used to determine fortunes centuries ago. Less palatable gambling in India is betting on bull fighting, cockfights, goat fights, a tradition which unashamedly still lives on in many parts of the world.
Bets on rainfall are taken during set periods in the day and in the monsoon season, people used to gamble on when and how much it would rain. Rain gambling was very common in Calcutta. It was actually outlawed, but apparently still takes place. Other unusual types of gambling included figuring out the price of opium, and even betting on the cost of food, jute and cotton. The people of India really did bet on anything and everything.
For a nation where cricket is the first love, cricket bets (illegal ones) are big business. Cricket gambling is a sports-oriented activity in itself. Betting in hockey, basket ball, football, badminton matches is very common in India. There is one simple reason for choosing sports gambling over other forms. Setting aside the entertainment factor, people have a better chance of winning consistently.
Sports gambling offers a unique skill-based opportunity for winning. Sports betting essentially involves two opposing bets by individuals with the sports book acting as a sort of broker. The sports book makes its money from the broker fees – the “juice” – and will adjust the odds and betting lines up or down to try and assure a roughly equal number of bettors on both sides of any proposition.
The individual bettor is pitting his judgment on the outcome of an event against the judgment of another bettor. By doing the homework before making a bet, one can directly increase the chances of winning his bets — particularly over the long run.
The first and foremost benefit from legalising gambling will be revenue generation for states. The second is that it provides a set of choices for the consumer. However, these benefits bring with them problems also: increased crime, loan sharking (taking loans at exorbitant rates for gambling), worsening of the living standards of the poor and lower middle class, and changes in behavioural norms and social ethics.
Legalisation gives the government the opportunity to bring gambling out from the dark corners of society, impose some controls and extract some revenue. Once gambling is legal, private information providers would publish data for the expected payoffs associated with alternative gambling providers. A complaint by a citizen about fraud in gambling should be viewed exactly like any other violation of contract, generating investigation and enforcement.
The development of brand names would work as a vehicle for people to identify sound providers of gambling as opposed to scamsters. However, this market deepening would not come about if gambling were simply banned or considered immoral, unethical or peripheral.