A cricket spot-fixing scandal in India may provide the necessary spark to prod politicians into finally passing legislation to legalize sports betting. The past week has seen a deluge of reports in the Indian media regarding illegal wagers on the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the arrests of scores of bookies across the country. Many of the bookies’ clients have also been linked to the scandal, including the son-in-law of the sport’s governing body and Bollywood actor Vindoo Dara Singh.
The brouhaha began last Thursday, when police in Delhi and Chennai began rounding up a vast network of bookies. Police said some of the illegal betting shops set up in residential flats were equipped with technology able to handle up to 500 phone calls at a time. Since the raids, IBN reported that those bookies who managed to avoid arrest have fled to smaller towns where they continue to process wagers on behalf of clients via UK-based online betting sites.
Rajasthan Royals’ one-named star player Sreesanth and his teammates Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan were also arrested and charged with cheating, criminal conspiracy and criminal breach of trust for allegedly accepting payments from bookies in exchange for agreeing to concede a fixed number of runs per over. More cricketers have reportedly been fingered by some of the arrested bookies, although their identities have yet to be revealed.
Further controversy has erupted after documents surfaced showing Sreesanth had registered a company in 2010 whose stated goal was “to run in India and/or coaching centers, gymnasiums, health clubs, fitness centers, betting houses…” Sivakumar Puzhankara, the minority partner of this company, told Indian television that the company was intended for Sreesanth’s “post-retirement life” and that the cricketer would have no problem running a betting house if he were to “settle abroad.”
In response to the scandal, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) has restated its plea for the government to legalize betting. On Friday, FICCI submitted a paper to the Sports Ministry noting that despite the government ban, betting was rampant in India and “substantial resources have been invested” into enforcing the ban. FICCI recommends a “middle way” of regulated betting because “a system which seeks simply to prohibit rather than control gambling is turning its back on the problem.” FICCI sports committee chairman Sanjiv Paul told The Hindu that betting was “not desirable just as gambling and smoking is not desirable. But banning it has not paid off.”
Indeed, National Crime Record Bureau statistics show courts in Andhra Pradesh handled 267,718 gambling cases between 2007-11, and that’s only India’s fourth most-populous state. India’s sports minister Jitendra Singh has been suitably outraged by the cricket scandal to draft a specific law criminalizing match- and spot-fixing in all sports, not just cricket. Singh enlisted the International Olympic Committee to help write the bill, which he expects will be completed by June 30. That might ensure swifter prosecutions of future transgressors, but as the saying goes, sunlight is the best disinfectant. It’s time for India to accept that prohibition isn’t working and bring sports betting out of the alleyways and into the light.