NEW DELHI – Cricket is a religion for many Indians.
But, of late, this religion has been somewhat soiled by allegations of players working with illegal bookmakers to fix not only the outcome of the matches but also specific bowling and batting action in the game.
Now, some Indians are saying that, as a solution, they want the practice of sports betting to be legalized.
A survey conducted among 200 businesses by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry reported that 74 percent of respondents voted that “legalizing sports betting will help curb match fixing problem.”
Indian law prohibits betting on sports, except on games such as horse racing. But the underground betting market is worth almost $52 billion in India, says the industry association.
In the latest scandal to hit the colonial game last month, police arrested star players and illegal bookmakers, accusing them of manipulating an immensely popular and lucrative tournament known as the Indian Premier League.
Police said the players were signaling bookies from the field by tucking the towel into the trousers, touching wrist-bands, and flashing a neck-chain to indicate when they were ready to play dirty.
“Cricket, which arouses primal passion among Indians, has been reduced to a charade,” said Abhijit Sarkar, co-chairman of the sports committee of the industry body, said at a conference in New Delhi.
The government has promised a tough new law to crack down on the problem by August.
Advocates of legalizing betting say it will unlock business opportunity, generate tax revenue and clean up the practice by bring it out of the dark.
But is India ready for this shift? Gambling is traditionally frowned upon in India, and has been since ancient Hindu epics were written.
“Betting is still not seen as a behavior that enjoys social approval,” S. N. Srivastava, special commissioner of the city police who is investigating last month’s cricket fraud. “Should we legalize it only because we are not able to enforce the ban fully? The country is not ready.”
He said it will adversely affect poorer, uneducated Indians who might be more likely to pour their life’s savings into sports bets.
George Oborne, managing director of IndiaBet.com, said India’s gambling laws are based on a 19th century British colonial-era law, and needs to be urgently re-written for the 21st century reality of online betting.