Unlike most people back home, I did not wake to the news of Sreesanth and others getting arrested. I was sitting cozily in my hotel room at Los Angeles and read the news before hitting my bed at midnight. What difference does that make, you may ask? I would say it probably helped me avoid a knee jerk reaction, which I would have had if I read this as morning news.
The thought that came to me was, why not legalize cricket betting or at least IPL betting in India? That does not mean legalizing fixing, whether match fixing or spot fixing. It only means that bookies and punters come into the open. We will know what the bets are and we will know the moment somebody bets a large sum on an unlikely event or unlikely occurrence.
The main reason I started thinking on these lines was because I realized that there is a big difference between match fixing and spot fixing. While match fixing involves a larger group of players or players who can swing the match or the team management, spot fixing can be done by a rogue player and spot fixing may or may not influence the result of the game.
To be clear, none of the above in any way makes spot fixing a lesser evil than match fixing.
As I understand, gambling has been one of the most prominent kinds of entertainment since time immemorial. A lot of people I know engage in gambling activities only because they want to have some fun and experience the excitement every time they bet. These people have no ulterior motive and are not criminals. We Indians have grown up reading and hearing about gambling being the key ingredient and the significant aspect of the Great Epic Mahabharata. So why not legalise cricket betting?
The first advantage of legalising betting would be increased revenue to the Government by way of taxes on betting. More importantly, if we pass legislation making gambling or IPL gambling a legal act, it would legalize the establishment of gambling places. The gambling places would get registered under tax laws and hence would be under the scanner. The regulators could have access to the data of bets and the events on which bets are placed. There could even be algorithms to catch large bets on events with a very low probability. Is it possible? I think so. My IT friends could help me with this question.
If somebody is paying a huge sum of money to a player for a particular act, it is imperative that he or his accomplice would be making more than that. It is simple business. So once somebody makes a killing, you trace it back to the person who committed the act which resulted in the money being earned. I know it I am making it simpler than it actually would be, but we can start thinking.
The biggest downside of legalizing gambling is that it has a negative impact on society and gambling would increase substantially. However, we already have legalised betting on horseracing and a number of states have lotteries. If we assume our society is a mature one, then the fear of people getting habituated to gambling is also unfounded.
So, why not think outside the legal book?
And in case you are wondering why I gave this so much thought in the middle of the night in Los Angeles, the answer is simple: This news would have hurt my favorite player, the ultimate gentleman cricketer, Rahul Dravid the most.