COVER STORY Time to Take Tough De­ci­sions

Le­gal­is­ing bet­ting in In­dia may not stop match- fix­ing but it will mod­ernise the game and leave a pa­per trail to stop rogue pun­ters set­ting up fixes

India Today - - COVER STORY -

Over here in Blighty we used to joke that when we got an un­sea­sonal warm spell it was be­cause a bil­lion In­di­ans had let out a sigh of re­lief at a favourable in­jury prog­no­sis for the Lit­tle Mas­ter. Well, it’s oddly chilly here now. Is it be­cause a bil­lion have had a sharp in­take of breath at the spot- fix­ing rev­e­la­tions that shocked the sub­con­ti­nent?

Even from far away it is ap­par­ent In­dia is suf­fer­ing a painful bout of soul- search­ing. The al­le­ga­tions about the three Ra­jasthan Royal play­ers are not as se­ri­ous as those once faced by Mo­ham­mad Azharud­din. But there is anger and bit­ter­ness that the In­dian Pre­mier League ( IPL) has been sul­lied.

That is be­cause, for many, IPL rep­re­sented the new In­dia. Brash, bril­liant, en­tic­ing. It had a cock­sure swag­ger of its own that matched the bur­geon­ing as­pi­ra­tions of a coun­try com­ing of age. In­dia was seiz­ing the world by the scruff of the neck in all kinds of in­dus­try— not just cricket— mak­ing its voice heard and dic­tat­ing terms.

But in­stead of feel­ing sorry for it­self, In­dia would do well to re­spond to the cri­sis by act­ing in a way which be­fits its im­por­tance on the world stage. Ra­tio­nal­ity and dig­nity are two words which spring to mind. An­other is re­al­ity. Yes In­dia, it is time for a re­al­ity check. Le­galise bet­ting and at once the game’s rep­u­ta­tion would be re­vived.

The bat­tle to cleanse the sport be­gins now. It is as much of minds as of hearts. De­bate has been luke­warm over whether In­dia should le­galise.

English gam­bling gi­ant Lad­brokes made a pre­sen­ta­tion to the Ma­ha­rash­tra govern­ment in 2008 on the ben­e­fits of le­gal­is­ing gam­bling. They said “we will con­sider it”. Bet­fair, an­other mono­lith of the bet­ting world, is also un­der­stood to have held talks. Up un­til now there have been only spo­radic men­tions of le­gal­i­sa­tion.

The in­dif­fer­ence is strange to an out­sider. If gam­bling was le­galised in In­dia, the tax ben­e­fits would be enor­mous. “We are ready to pay tax,” a top book­maker told me. On Day One of le­gal­i­sa­tion, the threat of cor­rup­tion in cricket would be re­duced by half. Well, half of the per­pe­tra­tors at least.

If In­dia’s book­mak­ers were above board, they would have to op­er­ate like the le­gal ones in the UK. That would mean an end to In­dia’s credit sys­tem, where book­ies ac­cept cus­tomers on trust. They would have to have money in their ac­count to bet. For that, they would have to give their per­sonal de­tails. When ac­counts are kept and ver­i­fied, you have a pa­per trail, which stops rogue pun­ters set­ting up fixes with their ‘ friends’ in cricket teams.

Ac­cord­ing to one book­maker, this ac­counts for 50 per cent of fixes. It is not al­ways book­ies do­ing the fix­ing. It can be as sim­ple as an or­di­nary man, who is friends with a player, to ask for a favour on the pitch: Bat out a maiden over for me, please? Con­cede more than 14 in your sec­ond over? He then gets all his mates and fam­ily to place as many bets as pos­si­ble. Bingo.

This is why there is no cor­rup­tion by gam­blers with le­gal book­mak­ers in the UK. Cor­rup­tors of this kind know book­mak­ers are able to spot a sus­pi­cious bet­ting pat­tern and the ac­counts that are driv­ing it. Within half- an­hour of a ‘ fix’, mar­kets shut down and the po­lice are knock­ing at your door.

Make no mis­take, an il­le­gal, un­reg­u­lated mar­ket— which has no such safety catch— is a ne­ces­sity for fraud of any kind. Syn­di­cates that pro­vide the odds to In­dian book­mak­ers in a tiered sys­tem could still ma­nip­u­late the odds in their favour, of course, just as any high- street bookie in the UK can, but the worry that their first, sec­ond or third- tier fran­chisees are ac­cept­ing bets from pun­ters with in­side knowl­edge of a fix would be erad­i­cated.

It is prob­a­ble and un­for­tu­nate that in this lat­est dis­grace, le­gal­i­sa­tion may

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