Gambling Law or Gambling the Law; Overview of the Scenario By Ajikrishnan S from CSI College for Legal Studies
Recently, the Law Commission of India sought public opinion on the subject of legalizing gambling/betting in India which once again resurrected the debate on this controversy.[i] This subject, indeed, needs to suffer public comments whatever be its outcome. The words ‘gambling’, ‘betting’ etc. are on many occasions misunderstood by or attached with the character or gravity of a serious crime by the public. This can be attributed principally to values and moral principles held by the society which itself was one of the main questions posed in the Law Commission’s appeal. ‘How far will legalizing betting and gambling be morally correct in the Indian circumstances?’[ii]
The dictionary meaning of the word gambling is ‘the activity of playing games of chance for money and of betting on horses, etc.’ Under the Public Gambling Act, 1867, the principal central legislation on this in India, gambling was left undefined. The Act contains just eighteen provisions, which prohibits playing any kind of games of chance and owning or occupying or keeping a common gaming house. However, section 12 puts an exception to this by providing that games played through mere skill are not covered by it. For instance, horse racing has been held to be a game which requires skill.[iii]
It has to be remembered that after the said statute no national level laws were yet to be framed save the sole case of the Lotteries (Regulation) Act passed in the year of 1998 to regulate lotteries and related matters. The central government, under this Act, issued the Lotteries (Regulation) Rules, 2010 which contains regulations for and ensuring the transparent working of lotteries. Although Britain left and reformed the law regarding gambling in their country, India’s British legislation has been waiting for the call of our legislators, which is expected to have certain changes owing to the momentum imparted by Lodha Committee. It puts forth the suggestion to legalize betting in sports in India.
The fact that gambling is a state subject, and states are entitled to put in place their own legislations led to some states enacting laws permitting gambling, including online gambling. The state legislations which in place at present are the Goa, Daman and Diu Public Gambling Act, 1976, The Sikkim Casino Games (Control and Tax Rules), 2002, the Sikkim Online Gaming (Regulation) Act, 2008.
Lodha Committee & Sports Betting
The Lodha Committee was appointed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court to suggest reforms in the cricket administration in India. This was against the backdrop of the match fixing scandal unearthed in the money flowing Indian Premiere League (IPL). The Committee framed, among others, a blueprint for legalizing sports betting with an array of safeguards. It suggested that betting in cricket be legalized within place regulatory watchdogs for constant monitoring of betting houses of their activities and to take required action in case of non-compliance. The Committee also wants the players and administrators to disclose their income, issuance of license after due verification of age etc. and strict punishments. It adds that ‘betting by Administrators, Players, Match Officials, Team Officials, Owners, etc., shall continue to be an offence under the BCCI and IPL Rules & Regulations.’ To ensure, in particular, that youngsters in cricket do not indulge in any unethical acts or professional misconducts, it stresses the need for providing awareness to such players.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court kicked the ball back to the legislature on this point describing it as a matter better implemented through legislative policy be welcomed. In matters like this, where no clear stance was being taken due to polarization of opinion for a long time, then it would not be proper for the judicial wing to decide.
The estimated illegal business market of gambling in India is about Rs. 300,000 crores.[iv] Sports betting is also not a new area of illegal activity, where a number of such activities were caught in the past and many going on without legal regulation.[v] There are also a number of other problems associated with gambling, including, those regarding morality, addiction of people and ultimately one would ask whether an illegal activity can be termed as legal by clothing law around it. It may remind that gambling has been an activity not new to our tradition. The real problem lies in weighing the pros and cons, or more precisely, by analysing what public good will be served by regulating an activity like this? The revenue which may generate through regulated gambling is one of the aspects to be considered especially in the area of sports betting which is not a mere chance based play.[vi] Rather than making it as an offence, if it can be permitted with adequate safeguards, followed by constant vigilance, it would be better let it becomes legal. Because, if every act of people breaches the law, the law is excess in quantity much less in quality. As rightly stated by Ms. Ayn Rand, a philosopher and novelist, ‘[t]here’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power the Government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.’
However, ultimately it is the people’s view, which is going to prevail. It must be so. That is, it would be better not to judge the fate of it when there are sufficient means to elicit public view. That will not only make explicit the moral support for it but will also be helpful in its trouble-free working.
[i]LAW COMMISSION OF INDIA, http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/BettingandGambling.pdf.
[iii]Dr. K.R Lakshmanan v. State of Tamil Nadu, AIR 1996 SC 1153.
[v]GUJARAT CRICKET ASSOCIATION, http://www.gujaratcricketassociation.com/file-manager/lodha/Lodha_Committee_Report.pdf.
[vi] Supra, note 4.
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