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‘Satta’ – A case to be considered

‘Ye Mai Kar leta hoon, tab tak aap Dream11 pe team bana lo’ – We all remember this catchy jingle which stormed the Indian television space during the Indian Premier League (IPL). Apps like Dream11, Myteam11, MPL etcetera which are essentially a form of skill-based betting platform giving out massive rewards, have become an instant hit among today’s youth. Though the legality of their modus operandi is debatable, a High Court order cleared its legitimacy, considering it a game of skill and not a game of chance, hence outside the purview of the Public Gambling Act, 1867. The question having been answered, let us take a look at the current scenario of gambling in India. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines gambling as ‘the practice or activity of betting: the practice of risking money or other stakes in a game or bet.’ Gambling is an inherent part of human nature. It is omnipresent in every society. Whether it is betting on horse races or animal fights on streets, people see it as a legitimate form of recreation.

Despite the fact that betting on sports events like cricket matches is illegal in India, people tend to bet on them and end up losing a lot of money. People get inveigled in the vicious cycle of gambling as they fail to understand when they should quit. Gambling or betting may sound like an evil trap, but it is not if the players know how to play it patiently and smartly. Society’s perspective towards gambling has drastically changed in the last century, but Indian laws have failed to emulate that. There is no denying that gambling and betting are taking place in the grey areas of the economy. The law enforcement agencies, to put it simply, are unable to stop this activity which continues to flourish unabated. One of the major reasons it is so is that gambling is an inherent part of human nature. Though outlawed by the Public Gambling Act, 1867, Indian residents can still bet and gamble online, owing to a legal loophole in this act which doesn’t explicitly prohibits online gambling and betting. Various websites like Bet365 and Betway accept bets or ‘satta’ from people having an address in any Indian state, with every aspect of popular sports like cricket being available to bet on their website.

While the police conducts raids, seizing and arresting gamblers and illegal ring-owners, online betters seem to be going scot-free. Gambling is considered to be a state subject, and various states like Goa and Sikkim have legalized gambling, with various casinos operating there. These casinos and other facilities have proved to be a success. With the casinos only being allowed to operate in five-star hotels, they are bringing in a large amount of tax revenue for these states, while at the same time generating employment. With illegal and legal mechanisms of gambling continuing unabated, a pertinent question appears - Should gambling be legalized in India? The reasons to legalize gambling and betting are manifold. Firstly, it is already occuring and people can partake in it through offline and online modes.

It is so widespread that no law enforcement agency can stop it. The money being generated from illegal gambling and sports betting racquets is being used for various illegal purposes like drug-trafficking and terror financing. Moreover, the lack of any formal structure to regulate these activities is causing severe difficulties for those who get addicted to gambling or become indebted to gambling mafias, who then exploit them.. This problem can easily be solved by providing formal contracts between the gamblers and the gambling establishment, with strict regulatory oversight. One cannot simply forget the immense tax benefits which these casinos and sports betting platforms will bring - In 2017 alone, the state of Goa earned Rs. 40 crore in GST through gambling. Though the income from offshore gambling websites is taxed at 30%, there is no mechanism to tax the entry fee or the betting fee. Legalizing it will ensure this taxation takes place, as well as bringing taxes from the income of those who are currently engaged in illegal gambling activities. A look at the activities of competing nations also shows that we are lagging. Various casinos have sprung up in the Indo-Nepal border areas, catering to a large portion of the Indian population, based along these regions. These gambling houses and casinos are only a six-hour drive away from most North-Indian cities.

Therefore, the people who want to access these facilities can easily do so, and India is losing out on a potential market here, with Nepal being touted to become the next Macau, the gambling hub of South Asia. Hence, the turn of time has made it all the more important to allow these profitable industries to flourish in India. This will bring additional revenue to the Government coffers, protect people against the malpractices of illegal gambling circles, stop illegal activities being financed by gambling money and generate gainful employment through entertainment hubs, the centre of attraction of which are casinos Skeptics and critics will continue to point out their apprehensions about the gambling and betting industry. The stories of people falling into the cesspit of illegal gambling will continue to come up but there is no weeding out of this practice, irrespective of the efforts. While it is true that the lives and livelihoods of many individuals have been destroyed due to this industry, its ill-effects have been mostly limited to the underprivileged sections of the society. To counter this, the casinos and other gambling establishments can be made open to only a select category of consumers, having high-entry fees, which can be taxed, as has been the case with other sin goods. Furthermore, their promotional activities can be curtailed, like that of other sin goods and services.

These and other measures can ensure that the vulnerable portions of the society can be shielded from the harmful effects of these services, especially in the initial stages of their legalization. To sum it up, times have changed. Gambling and betting have and will continue to exist relentlessly. With the advent of various sports fantasy platforms, online gambling websites, casinos in neighbouring countries and the continued failure of law enforcement agencies to curb illegal gambling, it is high time that we adapt to the changing times by legalizing gambling and sports betting and tapping into this highly profitable industry, instead of chanting about our old ways and the so-called ‘evils’ of this trade.

Shrawan Jaiswal
Undergraduate Student, SRCC










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