Indian Finance Minister Calls for Sports Betting Legalization

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India could benefit from the legalization of sports betting, says Minister of Finance Anurag Singh Thakur

India’s Minister of State for Finance Anurag Singh Thakur and a former president of the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) spoke on Thursday last week, outlining a new initiative for the legalization of sports betting in India.

According to Thakur, the safest way to move forward and curb match-fixing in cricket, which is massively popular in India, is to adopt a working sports betting framework.

Thakur was speaking during an event hosted by ICICI Securities and didn’t mince his words, calling out the game as heavily influenced by match-fixers who were indulging in corrupt practices to tip the balance in their favor.

Yet, a solution is in sight, Thakur said, citing the legalization of sports betting on cricket contests and other activities as a way past these corrupt practices. Not least, the government’s budget would stand to benefit immensely from the additional tax revenue, he thinks.

Thakur is building up on an idea pitched by Nilesh Shah, director at Kotak Mahindra Asset Management Company, to India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. According to Shah, Indians are keen gamblers, and with the country’s immense human resource, sports betting could be big. Shah expressed a sentiment similar to Thakur’s, arguing that:

“If we look at the problem of match-fixing, then the trends in betting can give us leads on whether something unholy is happening or not. Betting can become a potent tool to stop fixing.”

Kotak Mahindra Asset Management Company Director Nilesh Shah

In the meantime, Thakur is one of the best public figures to talk sports and match-fixing as he served as the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association president and BCCI, to name a few of his professional achievements.

While Thakur’s professional path puts him in a good position to argue the case of legal sports in India, the government has been ramping up its efforts to clamp down on illegal gambling activities taking place in-person or online.

There Is Merit in Regulating Sports Betting

Thakur’s idea to regulate sports betting is not ground-breaking, and other public figures and bodies have spoken favorably of regulating the gambling industry, and sports betting in particular.

In 2018, the Law Commission issued recommendations for the legalization of sports betting in the country, arguing that revenue was being siphoned off to offshore websites, a situation similar to what is happening in the United States even after the legalization of sports.

The illegal gambling market in India is currently worth as much as the illegal gambling market in the United States, more or less. The numbers are $100 billion a year for India, and the trend is for the offshore market to develop by 7% a year, compared to $150 billion offshore in the United States, where the market is shrinking because of legitimate gambling venues closer to home.

With vociferous voices for the sports betting legalization lobby, India may soon see its very own industry. This would mean a much harder time for cricket sports fixers and depleting revenue for the offshore betting segment.

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