The Sports Ministry has begun the groundwork to frame a legislation to legalise online sports betting in India. According to a ministry official, informal consultations have already been held with various stakeholders in the government. However, it may take at least two years for the ministry to prepare a draft.
The Sports Ministry is also likely to seek assistance from its counterparts in the UK, where gambling is legal. 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 a ministry official.
According to Doha-based International Centre for Sport Security, the illegal betting market in India is worth $150 billion, or roughly Rs 9.6 lakh crore. Most of it is via local bookmakers and unregulated offshore websites. At present, betting is legal only on horse racing, and it is taxed at 28 per cent under GST.
At a Group of Secretaries meeting recently, the Sports Ministry said it can 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 deliberated.
“The UK has overcome this (poor funding) through lottery and online betting. The department is preparing an MoU with the UK and the aspect of betting will be included therein in order to understand the mechanism and evolve a view on the possibility of its introduction in India,” the ministry said in its presentation.
A Sports Ministry official said the government was conscious of the social ramifications of such a move. “However, it can be beneficial to the economy as well as sports overall. We are looking at the best international practices in sports integrity and ethics framework,” the official said.
Betting is seen as a sensitive socio-political issue. More so in sports because of the match-fixing and spot-fixing controversies. The issue of legalising betting gathered momentum when former Chief Justice of India R M Lodha recommended it in his report to the Supreme Court last year, saying that betting should be legalised in cricket. “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 in his report.