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Confusion over online betting legalisation in India

Indian media reports over the weekend gave a somewhat confused portrayal of the situation regarding legalised betting.

Outlook India reported that the All India Gaming Federation (AIGF) has recommended central government legalisation of online betting in a white paper, but the newspaper was told on Sunday by the the current Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports, Vijay Goel that he has not yet seen any such proposal.

“No such proposal has been made to me. I am against betting. I am one of those who banned gambling. But the final decision rests with the Government of India,” Goel said.

The AIGF's white paper has reportedly also been submitted to the Law Commission of India.

In contrast, The Indian Express reported that the national Sports Ministry has begun the legislative groundwork to legalise online sports betting in India.

Quoting an unidentified senior Ministry official, the newspaper claimed that informal consultations have already been held with various stakeholders in the government, but it may be two years before a full draft of the proposed legislation is ready for publication.

The official also revealed that the Sports Ministry is likely to seek assistance from its counterparts in the UK, where gambling is legal. Apparently Sports Secretary Injeti Srinivas, who is currently in England, is likely to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in which online sports betting will be one of the key points.

“The UK has one of the most effective gambling laws. We hope to understand their system and see if it is possible to introduce it in India,” said the official.

According to Doha-based International Centre for Sport Security, the illegal betting market in India is worth $150 billion. Most of it is via local bookmakers and unregulated offshore websites. At present, betting is legal only on horse racing, where it is taxed at 28 percent under GST.

The Indian Express notes that at a Group of Secretaries meeting recently, the Sports Ministry said it could address the issue of poor funding for sports at central and state level by making online betting legal. The possibility of diverting a sizeable part of the revenue generated from betting towards the ministry’s programmes is also being considered.

The newspaper reports that the Ministry has been impressed by the UK model in which online betting tax revenues and lottery funding have addressed poor funding for sports bodies. The Ministry presentation revealed that officials are preparing an MoU with the UK in which legalised betting will be included “…in order to understand the mechanism and evolve a view on the possibility of its introduction in India.”

More recently a Sports Ministry spokesman confirmed that whilst government was conscious of the social implications of legalised betting, it was also aware that there could be benefits to the economy and sports organisations overall. He added that officials were studying best international practices in sports integrity and ethics frameworks.

In his report to the Indian Supreme Court last year, former Chief Justice of India, R M Lodha, recommended that betting should be legalised in cricket (see previous InfoPowa report).

“As far as betting alone is concerned, many of the respondents before the Committee were of the view that it would serve both the game and economy if it were legalised as has been done in the United Kingdom,” Lodha noted.

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