One can like or not like betting, but it is impossible to avoid it. While some betting cases are tracked, some never come out in the open. It is a known fact that almost every big match/tournament has people putting money on the game. So why not regulate it?
Last week, senior Congress leader and Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor had introduced a private member's bill in Parliament to regulate betting in sports.
Tharoor tells Moneycontrol that online gaming is a booming sector and if it is well regulated and legitimate methods of sports gaming is encouraged, it can play an important role in generating employment and, through taxes, increase revenues for the government.
Q: Please tell us the about the bill and its proposals.
A: Sports is an issue which is very close to my heart, not just because it’s fun, but because it helps imparts values of hard work, discipline and of cooperation and teamwork. For players and fans alike, sports are an important source of social integration.
However, to ensure a fair playing field, it is essential to maintain the integrity of sports. The increasing commercial nature of sports has meant there’s a lot more money around sports and this has made it more susceptible to manipulation and corruption.
Unfortunately, the existing legal framework does not specifically deal with the problem of the various forms of sports fraud such as spot-fixing or match-fixing. For instance, when the trial court delivered its judgment on the 2013 IPL matching fixing allegations, it highlighted the limitation in the law by stating that the allegations against the IPL players “pertains to betting and match-fixing, which does not fit in any penal statute”.
My Bill criminalizes various forms of sports fraud, including sharing inside information, bribery, misrepresentation about an athlete’s qualifications or manipulation of a sports result, including the simulation of a pre-determined sequence of events irrespective of whether the outcome is actually altered or not. A specific procedure is put in place for law enforcement authorities to deal with such cases. The Bill also recognizes that the existing approach to sports gaming or betting is deficient as the approach of banning such activities has only driven it into the black market, which in turns tries to manipulate sporting activities. It will be much better if we regulate sports betting, with a regulatory body to oversee the money flows and activities of those in the sector.
Parliament cannot make a law for the larger issue of sports betting in general as it is a State subject, but since it is competent to make laws on online betting or gaming, my Bill is restricted to online sports gaming.
Q: What is the present situation when it comes to sports betting? How much money do you think is being spent on sports betting every year because once legalized, the same money can also be taxed?
The 276th Report of the Law Commission of India looked at this issue in depth. The Report stated that the existing market for online sports gaming is $360 million. This is expected to rise to $1 billion by 2021.
It also states that in 2016, there were only 12 professional gaming teams, which has increased to 30 teams. So, evidently, this is a booming sector. If it is well regulated and the legitimate methods of sports gaming is encouraged, it can play an important role in generating employment and, through taxes, increase revenues to the government.
Q: What could be the benefits of regulating sports betting in the country?
A: Regulating sports betting will help weed out the criminal elements involved in the generation of black money. The oversight mechanism through an Online Sports Gaming Commission will help track suspicious betting patterns, and co-ordinate with state and central law enforcement agencies to curb illegal betting. Regulation will also help in generating revenue for the government through taxes.
Q: As we understand, the bill also deals with penalizing match-fixing. Do you think this will act as a deterrent for players?
A: The existing legal loopholes and the lucrative nature of sports provides an avenue for vested interests to make a quick buck. My Bill is an attempt to plug these loopholes, by specifically recognizing sports fraud and by providing a procedure to deal with it.
My Bill also penalizes someone who has information about an act of sports manipulation or an attempt to manipulate a sporting event, and fails to inform the competent authorities about it. If anyone engages in sports fraud in relation to bribery, providing inside information or manipulating a sports result, then such person will face imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years and with fine of Rs 10 lakh or five times the economic benefits derived by the person from sporting fraud, whichever is greater.
If this becomes a law, then sportspersons, crime syndicates and middlemen will think twice before committing such offences with ease.
Q: What is the possibility of the bill getting passed? Do you think the government should take this up on priority?
A: Private Member Bills have a very restricted procedure, so for the Bill to even reach the stage of debate before this Parliament runs out of time is difficult to imagine. However, if the government adopts the Bill, then it can be passed immediately. Therefore, the onus is on the government.
In 2013, the UPA had prepared a draft Bill to deal with sports fraud, which unfortunately got shelved by the Modi government which came to power in 2014. It is important that Parliament enacts such a law to protect sports in our country.