The mushrooming of franchise-based sports in India is a lightning rod for betting and may be even fixing.
Cricket and IPL might not have been the first off the blocks with city-based leagues, but their extraordinary success has served as template for others.
Franchisee model events are now the flavour of the day with kabaddi, football, badminton, tennis, hockey, table tennis and golf embracing it wholeheartedly. Futsal and pro-wrestling have also had a shot at running events and it would come as no surprise if they too become regular features in the sports calendar. Other sports like basketball, volleyball, boxing and athletics are also expected to soon grab a piece of the action.
Not to be left behind, India’s women cricketers have coaxed the Committee of Administrators (CoA), BCCI to plan a women’s league on the lines of IPL. It is only a matter of time before women in other sports also follow suit.
This surge in City-based leagues should be a terrific boost for sports in India, except that all these televised sports and events are taking place when there is little or no law to regulate betting and match-fixing. The fear that they could draw the attention of bookies and fixers is real. When that happens, all these City-based leagues could deteriorate into poor versions of WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment, formerly WWF). That is unless the government quickly swings into action, regulates betting and brings it into the open.
Currently, as stated in various forums, there is no Indian law against match-fixing. Many players who were caught, exposed and banned by BCCI are back in the mainstream simply because it was held that they broke no law!
This apart, figures that are being bandied about in betting and related industries are a veritable eye-opener even for those following the commerce of sport. In fact they are staggering:
· A small state like Kerala gets annual revenue of Rs 10,000 crores from lottery.
· The world famous Hong Kong Jockey Club boasts of a turnover of 217 billion HK $ (1 HK $ is around Rs 8.50).
· Jockey Club’s turnover from horse racing alone was 116 billion HK $!
· The Jockey Club proudly hands over 21.7 billion HK $ to their government as duty and profits tax.
Hong Kong has a population of 7.5 million while India is a country divided into 29 states and seven union territories. If one small state like Kerala alone can generate Rs 10,000 crores from lotteries, imagine the potential windfall from all over India (lottery is banned in some states).
A comprehensive KPMG – CII report brought out in September 2016 brackets betting with infrastructure construction, food and beverages and puts the global market size at 200 billion US $. The otherwise impressive study does not mention that credibility of the franchisee sports in India was vulnerable to regular charges of betting and alleged spot-fixing.
Elsewhere KPMG states that the size of the betting market in India is Rs 300,000 crore. This figure is plausible as it is in line with the Rs 10,000 crore lottery revenue from Kerala. Most of the 29 states are bigger than Kerala and should each have the potential to generate more than Kerala’s Rs 10,000 crore. A mere 10 per cent tax on the Rs 300,000 crore should lavishly fund India’s sports budget which is currently a meagre Rs 1950 crore!
The economics of betting apart, one of the reasons for legalising betting is that it would drive the underworld out of this business and at the same time bring transparency into the game.
Much like sudden spurts or fall in stock market prices can be traced to source, unexplained jump or drop in odds would be dead giveaways of spot-fixing. Laws could be brought in to ensure that cricketers and others closely associated with them and administration do not bet or fix matches (a la insider trading).
Even otherwise betting in horse racing is legal in India and the five Turf Authorities (Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkatta, Chennai and Hyderabad) have stringent rules governing it. Of course there is the odd hanky panky and that is when punters smell the fix and go on a rampage. Tighter rules, regulation and monitoring along with deterring punitive measure can minimise even that.
Importantly the illegal channels utilised to move money for the underworld can be drained. On the other hand, if the underworld is allowed to have a free run and mop up huge sums of money through illegal betting they would be tempted to run their own parallel leagues as gleaned from the Al Jazeera sting on Robin Morris and a bookie last week.
Of course there are many who will hold that betting is a vice and that legalising it would be akin to encouraging it. So are smoking and drinking. But they have been regulated and taxed to the benefit of all. Legalising betting will do much more than bringing in money and restoring faith in sport.
The alternative is to give the underworld a free run and access to humongous amounts of money. Sadly this would reduce outstanding, ardent, franchisee-based competitive sports to the equivalent of WWF. The government therefore needs to quickly bite the bullet lest all the various franchisee-based events are reduced to junk status by fixers and the betting syndicate.