Former Chief Justice RM Lodha Committee’s recommendation to make betting in sports legal has triggered a debate on the issue of ethical dimensions, but most legal luminaries said it might be a good rather than a bad thing for the sport.
Senior advocates Kapil Sibal, Harish Salve, CA Sundaram, Supreme Court Bar Association president Dushyant Dave and lawyer Prashant Bhushan all favoured legalising betting as it would only legalise something which already existed and help in regulating it.
Salve described it as an "excellent idea". "If it is legal then it can be regulated. Otherwise it goes on repentantly," he said.
Former Law Minister Kapil Sibal, who appeared for former BCCI chief N Srinivasan in the long battle seeking court intervention to clean up the cash-rich BCCI, agreed, saying unauthorised betting would hold the fort in absence of legal betting.
He hailed Justice Lodha’s recommendation to give it a statutory standing. "My personal view is that if betting is not made legal through a transparent process, then underground betting will take over," he said.
Bhushan also said that Justice Lodha must have some good reasons to make the recommendation and noted that absence of a law to regulate an activity only gives rise to a mafia.
"There must be a good reason for Lodha Committee to recommend that betting should be made legal. It is taking place de facto. Betting under an illegal situation gives rise to a mafia," Bhushan said.
Such is the force of moral and conservative inhibition in permitting betting and gambling, that gambling is prohibited by all states except Goa and Sikkim. A 148-year-old act, the Public Gambling Act, 1867 still survives, as it was adopted by many states.
However, some states have changed their laws to keep abreast of changing times, but these are still way behind the rest of the world.
Addressing the ethical qualms over permitting betting, Dave said: "This is hypocrisy…. Virtually in every other democratic country betting is legal. Making it legal would remove unnecessary evils and false persecution and prosecution. It would generate a healthy trend towards gaming and will be well regulated."
He brushed aside suggestions that betting, if made legal, would cloud the credibility of the popular sport that is cricket. Dave said: "It would improve the conduct of the game. Horse racing, boxing, football, every sport, there is betting, then why not cricket?."
Sundaram, who had appeared for the BCCI in the Supreme Court, said that betting was done all over the world. If betting was made legal it would protect the normally law abiding citizens from being tempted to go for illegal betting inflicting the popular sports.
"Betting on sports is done all over the world through legal channels. It is normally accepted behaviour and pattern to bet on sports. Not making it legal results only in making normally law abiding people act in an illegal manner," he said.
Sundaram’s other concern is the loss of revenue on account of tax which some peg at Rs.12,000 crore on account of rampant illegal betting. This, Sundaram said, "also deprives the government of a large collection of revenue through taxing such activities".