Will India Legalise Gambling

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Posted by : Siddharth Jalan on | Mar 29,2019

Whether it’s betting on sports, taking a punt on politics or just playing blackjack games, gambling is a popular industry across the world. In fact, the global gambling market is worth an estimated 45 billion dollars. However, there are some countries which have strict laws against the practice, in many cases because of religious beliefs, such as:

- Qatar
- United Arab Emirates
- Brunei
- Lebanon

One similar example – although not linked to religion – is India, where only three states – Daman, Goa and Sikkim – allow casinos. Is this set to change?

Gambling restrictions in India
Most gambling in India has been prohibited since the Public Gambling Act in 1867, which states that any involvement in a gambling house – operating, assisting with or visiting – is illegal, along with any possession of a ‘gambling device’.

One exception in this law is that it doesn’t apply to games of skill, which the Supreme Court of India defines as “competitions where success depends on substantial degree of skill”. Over time, this has been judged to include horse racing and even card games like Rummy or ‘Paplu’.

Interestingly, there is no such exception for Poker, which is seen by many as one of the more skilful card games. Similarly, there is no exception for clear games of skill like football and cricket. There is also an exception for lotteries, with competitions like the Playwin lottery popular across the country.

Underground gambling
As with many prohibited activities, illegality hasn’t stopped gambling from taking place across the country.

One such method is through gambling sites based in other countries, accessed by Indian citizens. These sites aren’t under any restriction from the Indian government, with some even making the Indian Rupee an option for currency on their site. The only issue comes for Indian citizens, who risk breaking the law and may find it difficult to deposit on such sites.

Another issue comes with ‘underground’ bookies, who take bets on sporting events, for instance, without any licence. KPMG estimated that a total of $60 billion was wagered in India in 2010, most of which was illegal. There are particularly large spikes in gambling activity around Diwali and Holi too.

If anyone was in doubt of the presence of illicit gambling, there have even been instances of match fixing in Indian cricket. What this results in is a lot of profit going through illegal bookmakers, who will do so with no regulations, pay no tax and in many cases have links to other illegal activities.

Moving towards legal gambling?
The lack of regulation and taxation is one of the main arguments to legalise gambling in India. Legal gambling could provide a significant source of income for the Indian government, with the UK profiting to the tune of £2.7 billion in 2016/17 from a population less than 10% the size of India’s. It could also provide an opportunity to bring gambling out of disreputable hands and make consumers safe.

On top of that, many cite the lack of action on gambling laws as a reason to change them. While India prohibits gambling with various fines and prison sentences to deter people, there is much less prosecution than you would imagine. Essentially, the government is trying to deter gambling, rather than actually ban it – but losing out on billions in the process, it’s argued.

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