Illegal gambling is always a hot topic in India as one cricket betting scandal after another hits the news stands.
We're probably biased here at IndiaBet.com, but we think it's high time the powers-that-be in India looked again at the urgent need for legalising gambling in this fine country. What follows is a run-down of all the key issues involved.
Does Gambling Occur In India?
The short answer to this question is a categorical yes. For a more accurate answer, however, the question needs to be addressed in terms of legal gambling and illegal gambling.
There is a certain amount of gambling in India which is legal. Lotteries and horse racing are both popular legal forms of gambling. They have persisted through the legal changes of the past two centuries and provide a fruitful income for the government's tax department. You can read about Indian Horse Racing and Lotteries on our website.
More recently, however, more unconventional forms of gambling have appeared in two states: Goa and Sikkim. These states have been pioneers of the Indian gambling world and set up both online gambling as well as land-based operations. Goa, for example, has set up a number of casinos, both locally and offshore. The offshore casinos cater to higher stakes players and host large poker tournaments. Sikkim, meanwhile, has set up the only legal betting website in India through the Playwin lottery and regularly releases statements demonstrating the intention to set up more.
These rare eccentricities in the Indian legal system are anomalous in a country where the overwhelming majority of gambling is illegal. Illegal gambling accounts for staggering amounts of money in India and there are certainly enough willing people with the right amount of criminal enterprise to take advantage of the situation.
It is difficult to pick up an Indian newspaper without reading about the latest cricket betting scandal or the latest betting house bust. This is because a large proportion of Indian society continues to partake in sportsbook betting. Cricket, the nation's favourite sport, attracts vast numbers of viewers, many of whom want to have a bet whilst watching the match. As there are no legitimate means through which people can place these bets in India, it becomes inevitable that they will use informal methods. Hence illegal sports betting is hugely prevalent.
A similar situation occurs with games such as teen patti and poker. These card games are enormously popular throughout India and especially during the time of religious festivals such as Diwali. There is therefore an opportunity for criminals to set up gaming rooms where it is safe for players to try their luck at these games. From time to time these clubs are busted and that is when we hear about them in the news.
Sportsbook, poker and teen patti are reasonably complex forms of gambling and the betting stakes must be highish for the illegal bookmaker to make money. Therefore, there are also a number of alternative betting games offered on the illegal market. These are played for small stakes. The most popular of these is called matka and is very similar to a lottery. However, because it is not subject to state taxation, the bookies generally offer better value pay-outs.
Why Is Gambling In India Illegal?
Gambling is very much part of Indian culture. Historically, the ancient Indian kingdoms celebrated and partook in gambling regularly. So much so that it has become, for some, an important feature of the Hindu religion.
Gambling has only been illegal for a relatively short period in India's long history. It was first made illegal after the Public Gambling Act was introduced in 1867. This Act was imposed under British rule, who believed that by banning gambling the Indian economy would strengthen.
Rather than stem gambling, the Act purely drove gambling underground and it was at this time that a number of illegal gambling networks were set up. The mafia saw this as an opportunity to make money and began to offer matka style games to those who wanted to continue gambling.
One of the good things to come of the Act was the decline of cruel betting activities such as cock fighting, which was previously very popular in India. However, people have continued to play traditional card games such as rummy and teen patti.
Another big reason for the decline in gambling is the influence of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi spoke out against gambling as he believed it to be morally corrupt. He believed that it preyed on the poor and lined the pockets of the rich. He believed that those who gambled aimed to gain something for nothing and that, in his opinion, was bad for society.
These are compelling arguments, but it does not take into account the enjoyment that can be derived from low-stakes betting for fun. Gambling that is well regulated (and in the modern world it can be well regulated) is an enjoyable pastime with the more sinister aspects removed or reduced via legislation.
Gandhi's social and cultural influence still has an effect today, which is a great thing for Indian society and epitomises much of the fair-play Indian character that is respected throughout the world. The government believes it has a responsibility to live up to this cultural tradition and therefore politicians are often known for their conservatism on the matter.
Policy makers are thus unwilling to make changes to gambling laws, despite the clear economic and social advantages of such a move. Ultimately it will be up to politicians and the voting public to make the decision that India is better off with gambling legalised. However, as it stands lawmakers are unwilling to make the decision through fear of retribution from the media and attack from rival political parties.
What Have Been The Effects Of Legal Gambling?
The effects of legal gambling have, on the whole, been very good for India.
The traditional horse racing scene continues to flourish and one only needs to look at events such as the Indian Derby to realise how popular they are, let alone to see their cultural and social value. Horse racing is part of India's history and there are plenty of racing fanatics who know everything about the sport and attend every single meeting. At an Indian racecourse you will see these people integrate and mix with society's high fliers - a rare sight in a country renowned for its ever-expanding inequalities.
Gambling has also been good for the economy and provided a number of jobs outside of the race track. Lottery stalls can be found all over India. They provide jobs for the people that sell the tickets, print the tickets and even increase newspaper sales in which the results are published.
In Sikkim and Goa, the results of legalised gambling are more pronounced. Sikkim has gone from being a small, Himalayan state in the north east of India to one of the major hubs of the Indian gambling industry. A large amount of investment both from domestic and international organisations has been put into Sikkim, bringing economic power to the region.
The success of it's national Playwin lottery has been astounding and it has largely been accepted as the main national lottery of India. A huge amount of revenue has been brought into the state as a result and helped to build other industries in the area. Especially in comparison to its neighbouring states, Sikkim's economic progress in the last decade has been remarkable and this is overwhelmingly thanks to its love-in with the betting industry.
A similar story can be told in the capital city of Panjim in Goa where businesses are thriving thanks to the tourism brought in from the gambling industry. The Mandovi river is now home to India's largest casinos, all of which float on large ferries playing host to some of the biggest punters in the sub-continent. Goa, historically known for its beautiful beaches and western tourists, is attempting to turn that image around by pulling in fans of gambling from all over Asia.
This has helped businesses in Panjim, a city which was previously neglected by the tourist industry in favour of Goa's famous beach resorts. Yes, there have been a number of complaints made by local residents regarding the city's laser-like focus on casinos, with plenty of gaudy gambling advertisement hoardings nowadays lining the streets, but it cannot be denied that the project has been an economic success.
What Have Been The Effects Of Illegal Gambling?
The vast majority of gambling in India takes place illegally and its effects have been extremely damaging. Sophisticated criminal rackets have been run ever since gambling was made illegal in 1867. These networks have developed over the years and now incorporate cutting-edge technologies to run their betting systems. There is a constant battle between the police and the bookmakers, with most people generally agreeing that the bookmakers have the edge.
The result of this is that a large amount of police time and money is spent tracking down criminals involved in illegal gambling. These racketeers do not provide any direct or imminent threat to the public and therefore many people believe that police resources could be better used elsewhere.
The reason that the police do try to bust these betting rings is because the money made in illegal gambling remains in criminal circles. Money made in illegal betting often ends up in the hands of more dangerous crooks that operate the drugs and terrorism industries in India. Illegal gambling is the hand that therefore feeds these gangsters and funds other forms of criminality which do pose a danger to society.
If gambling were to be legalised that mountain of dirty money would stop going to criminals and could be collected as tax. The Indian government currently lose out on billions of rupees every year through money lost into the illegal gambling black-market. That money could then be spent cracking down on other forms of crime that are more harmful to society.
Gambling in India has a very real association with criminality and this has created many scandals over the years. In particular, the cricket fixing allegations are especially harmful to the country's reputation and work to perpetuate a belief amongst foreigners that India as a whole is corrupt. By legalising gambling it would become far easier to eliminate these types of scandals from the game of cricket and punish the culprits, which would in turn better the state of both the nation's pride and its economy.
The Road Ahead
To conclude we can see that gambling will continue to be prevalent in India regardless of whether gambling is legalised or not. Legal forms of gambling have beneficial effects on both local and national economies. They are popular with the majority of the population and can be properly regulated. Meanwhile, illegal forms of gambling help fund more sinister forms of criminality and do damage to both the national economy and the reputation of the country as a whole.
A number of countries have legalised gambling in a productive and safe way and there are a number of legal models - such as Britain's - the Indian government could succesfully adopt.
The inevitable solution to the myriad problems caused by illegal gambling is to legalise and regulate it. We ask every Indian who is a fan of betting to make your voice heard and spread this message far and wide.
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