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Pragmatic, unlikely

Editorial |

The cynics would insist that it is a case of “if you can’t lick ‘em you might as well join ‘em”. Even when making its recommendation legalising betting on sports events, the Law Commission of India pointed to an inability to prevent wagering, hence bringing it under a legal regime was advisable. That is something that has been argued down the years but came to occupy centre-stage after the match-fixing scandal rocked the Indian Premier League. Cynics would also insist that what the Law Commission has advocated actually confirms/exposes judicial over-reach ~ unable to do much better than the cops, “their Lordships” deviated into using judicial authority to try and take control of the only sport not plagued by maladministration ~ at least not in common perception. Provisions of the archaic contempt of court regime rule out exhaustive comment on that issue. Maybe someday an opportunity will arise…

While appreciating the spirit of the Law Commission’s conclusions, it is difficult to endorse the elaborate regulatory mechanism it has prescribed. It is much too cumbersome to be impartially applied, drafted by a curious combination of bureaucrats and lawyers. To follow those instructions might amount to surrendering one’s cherished right to privacy, and actually cause folk to continue to take a flutter on existing, though unlawful, systems.

At the best of times, regulation is a dirty word in a democratic environment, and a law drafted in accordance with the Commission’s suggestion is likely to have as much effectiveness as laws preventing dowry, child labour and so on. Only in the statute book do they qualify as preventive. And if the desire is to keep in step with contemporary practices why limit gaming to sporting activity ~ do the “bucket shops” abroad not rival the political pundits in predicting electoral fortunes? The underground satta bazaar does a pretty good job of that here already.

As in so many other spheres of life in India, the determination will be a political one. While finance ministers may privately salivate over the enhanced tax revenues that will accrue from legalised betting, it is unlikely that they will openly advocate it. If the political environment is so hypocritical as to condemn “wine, women and song” the prospects are bleak of a system emerging which enables a fan of ~, for example, Virat Kolhi, Sunil Chettri, or PV Sindhu ~ to put the money where their mouth is. After all prohibition is still considered to be politically correct. So if the cops’ palms are greased by bootleggers, are they going to lose out if bookies “turn legit”? Remember that the Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act enables the authorities to thrive on the oldest profession in the world.

What, then, are the odds on legalising betting when in the run-up to elections politicians of all shapes and size make a beeline for the temple? As long as someone is winning without playing a caste-card?