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Will legalising betting in cricket boost match-fixing?

By Vicky Nanjappa
June 07, 2013 14:35 IST
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Should betting in cricket be legalised? Vicky Nanjappa talks to police officials to find out what is the downside to this.  

In the fall-out of all the controversies surrounding the Indian Premier League, a burning debate has ensued, and at the centre of the debate is about legalising betting in cricket.

The question arises: Should or shouldn’t cricket be legalised?

In India, betting is only legal in horse-racing and rummy, both considered sports that require skill. This can be used as an argument in favour of legalising betting in cricket.

Although many believe that the current mess in cricket can be cleaned to a large extent if betting is legalised, police officers of various states are against this.

Also, legal experts point out that the onus is upon the state governments to legalise cricket betting and at the moment none of the governments is really in favour of the same.

So why are police and governments against legalising betting?

For starters, cricket has an audience which is 1000 times larger when compared to horse-racing or rummy.

Bets will be placed in large numbers even by youngsters -- college-goers, etc -- which will automatically raise the stakes and, in turn, tempt bookies to try and fix matches.

Police officers say it would become a situation that will spiral out of control.

Legalising betting in cricket would need a judicial review too, and, as of now there are no judgements to suggest that cricket betting requires skill.

The Supreme Court has been very clear on this matter and says that a bet could be legalised only if there is a skill involved.

Two very crucial judgments delivered by the Supreme Court of India in 1996 and 1967 explain when betting can be legal and when it cannot.

A judgment passed in the State Of Andhra Pradesh vs K Satyanarayana & Ors case, in 1967, dealt with subject of whether rummy was a game of chance or not.

The Supreme Court held that rummy was not a game entirely of chance like the 'three-card' game. The 'three-card' game which goes under different names such as 'flush', 'brag' etc is a game of pure chance.

Rummy, on the other hand, requires a certain amount of skill because the fall of the cards has to be memorised and the building up of rummy requires considerable skill in holding and discarding cards. It can’t, therefore, be said that rummy is entirely a game of chance. It is mainly and preponderantly a game of skill. The chance in rummy is of the same character as the chance in a deal at a game of bridge, the court said.

In fact, in all card games there is an element of chance, because the distribution of the cards is not according to any set pattern but is dependent upon how the cards find their place in the shuffled pack. From this alone it cannot be said that rummy is a game of chance and there is no skill involved in it.

In the Dr K R Lakshmanan vs State of Tamil Nadu, the subject under question was horse-racing. In this case the Supreme Court held that racing is really a test of equine speed and stamina. The horses are trained to run and their form is constantly watched by experts.

'Betting on horse-racing or athletic contests involves the assessment of a contestant’s physical capacity and the use of other evaluative skills.

'Horse-racing is an organised institution. Apart from a sport, it has become a huge public entertainment business.

'According to The New Encyclopaedia Britannica the occasion of certain races are recorded as public holiday. There is nothing illegal in horse racing: it is a lawful sport. There is nothing illegal in betting per se. There is all the difference in the world between a club sweepstakes on the result of the Derby and a sweepstakes horse race as defined in the Rules of Racing. In each, no doubt, the winner is ascertained by the result of an uncertain event, but in the case of the former the winner is ascertained by chance, ie, the luck of the draw not the result of the race (for the result is the same whether the draw is made before or after the race); in the case of the latter the winner is ascertained not by chance, but by merit of performance.'

The former is a lottery; the latter is not, the court said. 'We have no hesitation in reaching the conclusion that the horse-racing is a sport which primarily depends on the special ability acquired by training. It is the speed and stamina of the horse, acquired by training, which matters. Jockeys are experts in the art of riding. Between two equally fast horses, a better trained jockey can touch the winning-post.'

Legal experts and police officials say that it is relatively easier to control the betting syndicate when the stake-holders are small in number. In the case of cricket it is difficult, considering the game is extremely popular among all age groups and has a very large audience.

In the case of horse-racing, the state legislatures have taken a call that it may be permitted for recreation and entertainment in race-courses.

However, the police feel that in the case of cricket, while it can be ensured that betting will take place only for recreation purposes, the bigger problem is of fixing, since the stakes are extremely high, and this is something that could blow out of control.

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