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The 276th report of the Law Commission of India (LCI) has proposed that India move towards the legalisation and regulation of betting and gambling.
The report, titled Legal Framework: Gambling and Sports Betting including Cricket in India, was prepared pursuant to a reference made in 2017 by the Supreme Court, in the case of Board of Control for Cricket in India v Cricket Association of Bihar & Ors (BCCI case).
Genesis of the 276th Law Commission Report
The BCCI case came before the Supreme Court in the backdrop of allegations that the 2013 season of Indian Premier League (IPL) Cricket was marred by match-fixing.
The Justice RM Lodha Committee (the second committee after the Justice Mugdal Committee tasked to examine the issue) had previously recommended the legalisation of betting with strong safeguards. While advocating for the legalisation of betting, it had also recommended that match/spot fixing be made a criminal offence.
Subsequently, the Supreme Court called on the LCI to examine the viability of legalising betting as recommended by the Lodha Committee, observing,
“…the recommendation made by the [Lodha] Committee that betting should be legalized by law, involves the enactment of a Law which is a matter that may be examined by the Law Commission and the Government for such actions as it may consider necessary in the facts and circumstances of the case.”
Majority in favour of Legalising Sports Gambling and Betting
The majority opinion in the LCI report has endorsed the Lodha Committee recommendation that betting and gambling should be legalised in India. To this end, the report has also proposed ways in which the gambling industry can be regulated.
In line with the Lodha committee’s proposal, the LCI has also advocated for demarcating match-fixing as a criminal offence, outside the purview of legalised betting and gambling.
However, one member, S Sivakumar, has not concurred with these views, opining that the LCI has gone beyond its mandate when it delved into sports betting in general. Sivakumar points out that the LCI was expected to confine its deliberation to the viability of legalising betting in cricket, in accordance with the Supreme Court’s terms of reference.
This apart, Sivakumar has also opined that it is not pragmatic to introduce legalised gambling and betting in India, given its current socio-economic and cultural circumstances. He also argued that the introduction of legalised gambling would only serve to benefit a handful of game operators, thereby pushing innocent masses to hands of poverty and penury. Ultimately, he is of the view that no form of gambling should be permitted in India. On a concluding note, he has said,
“The policy of the Government, in general, is to disallow betting an gambling and I apprehend that the recommendation of the Commission may lead to an unhealthy and unwarranted discussion.”
The Case for Legalisation of Betting and Gambling
As per the majority view, the rationale behind legalising betting is rooted in the idea that a complete prohibition is impossible to implement in India. Therefore, it would be better if it were regulated, rather than leave its effects unmonitored.
The rise of online gaming and Virtual Currency (VC) has only added to the difficulties in monitoring betting and gambling activity in India. On the rise of online gaming, the report notes,
“Such activities show no signs of being stopped or curbed; the least that could be done is to regulate them.
…The issue of Online Gambling has further been worsened by the rise in popularity and ease of availability of VC, a form of electronic money. Having taken the form of a parallel economy, gambling with VC, pushes even the Online Gambling market underground, and very often, out of the reach of the law enforcement authorities.”
As explained in the report, a blanket prohibition on betting has paved the way for black markets in the arena. Hence, the logical and viable step is to regulate the area, not insist on its complete prohibition.
“A total ban on gambling and betting activities would not completely eradicate the problem. Rather, it would drive it straight to the black-market. This in turn would result in making it harder to monitor such illegal activities, it would also render the helpless out of the protection of the law and at the mercy of loan-sharks and crime-lords…
…the existing black-market operations relating to these activities are a major source of influx of black money in the economy, making, regulation rather than complete prohibition the logical step to be taken.”
Apart from such practical considerations, the report also makes reference to a number of case laws where games of skill have been viewed as exempt from the prohibition on gambling.
Among other case laws cited in the report is RMD Chamarbaugawala v. Union of India. In this case, the Apex Court held that competitions which substantially involve skills are not gambling activities but are commercial activities, protected under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.
Incidentally, the report also notes that the legalisation of the betting industry could yield more revenue for the state and more jobs for the economy.
Ultimately, the Commission concludes,
“Having discussed the pros and cons of legalising regulated gambling and betting activities, it would be apt to say that the arguments in favour of the same far outweigh the arguments alluding to the immorality of these activities.”
However, it is also cautioned that the current legal, socio-economic and moral scenario in India is not conducive to the immediate legalisation of betting. Therefore, for the present, the State must work towards implementing the current prohibition on unlawful betting and gambling.
“The existing policy of the Government…the current socioeconomic atmosphere in the country and the prevalent social and moral values do not encourage betting and gambling.
Accordingly, the Commission reaches the inescapable conclusion that legalising betting and gambling is not desirable in India in the present scenario. Therefore, the State authorities must ensure enforcement of a complete ban on unlawful betting and gambling.”
The LCI concludes its report by making recommendations that could be adopted by the Government when it chooses to legalise and regulate betting and gambling in India. To this end, the LCI proposes a three-pronged strategy i.e.
Specific recommendations made to this effect include the following.
Laying down the Legal Framework
Checks and Balances to be introduced
Read the Report: