The debate over legalising betting and gambling traces its roots back to the age of mythology and epics in India. Ancient texts have views both for and against legalising betting and gambling. So far, in modern Indian history, lawmakers have decided to tread on the safe path and have not legalised such activities, barring some geographies.

But now, the winds of change appear to be gathering momentum. The 276th report of the Law Commission of India (LCI) has opened up the possibility of legalising sports betting and gambling in India.

In an exhaustive 145-page report, the LCI—an executive body under the ministry of law and justice, which works to reform the law of the land—has suggested that sports betting and gambling should be legalised with regulations.

The LCI suggests that Parliament can enact a model law for regulating gambling, which can then be adopted by the state governments. This is because the subject of sports betting and gambling is a matter for state governments to legislate under the provisions of the Constitution. Further, the LCI takes the example of horse racing to suggest that other such games of skill should be exempted from the blanket prohibition on gambling.

To ensure that the public does not harm itself if gambling and betting are legalised, the LCI suggests that there must be a cap on the number of transactions that an individual can indulge in over a specific period. This can be monthly, half yearly or yearly. According to the LCI, even the volume of the stake could be kept under check by linking it to PAN card and Aadhaar card. Such activities should also be restricted to those above the age of 18, the recommendations in the report state.

The LCI also recommends that “allowing FDI in this industry would bring substantial amounts of investment to those states that decide to permit casinos, propelling the growth of the tourism and hospitality industries, while also enabling such States to generate higher revenue and employment opportunities”.

The industry has welcomed the recommendations of the LCI. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) said in a statement, “The Chamber has been advocating legalising sports betting in India for the last six years, which will help the government to earn huge untapped revenue. Sports betting and frauds in India have affected the credibility of sports and it is becoming increasingly difficult to punish the guilty because of lack of evidences and geographical spread of the problem.”

According to FICCI and its members, regulation is not just to restrict illegal activities but also create a new scope of revenue for the government. “It will boost the economy by regulating over Rs 3,00,000 crore of unregulated economic activities. The state governments may have more funds to invest in the welfare activities, and this should be directly linked to the sports broad-basing and developmental activities, which often get ignored because of the paucity of funds,” said Siddhartha Upadhyay, co-chair, FICCI Sports Committee.

The LCI only took up such a study after the Supreme Court asked it to do so while it was hearing the matter of Board of Control for Cricket in India vs. Cricket Association of Bihar and Others. The Apex Court had observed, “...the recommendation made by the committee that betting should be legalised by law, involves the enactment of a law which is a matter that may be examined by Law Commission and the government for such action as it may consider necessary in the facts and circumstances of the case.”

Interestingly, the detailed report goes into the history of betting and gambling in ancient India. It refers to practices mentioned in epics such as the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and ancient civic texts such as the Manusmriti, Katyayana Smriti, and others, to set the moral history of betting and gambling. While the LCI does state that is not desirable for India to legalise betting and gambling in the “present scenario”, it says that the inability of state governments to enforce a complete ban on betting and gambling has led to a rampant increase in illegal gambling. “Since it is not possible to prevent these activities completely, effectively regulating them remains the only viable option,” the LCI states in its report.

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