India’s Supreme Court ordered the Law Commission in 2016 to examine whether sports betting and gambling should be legalized and regulated. In the ensuing months and years since that news first broke, various media outlets have reported that the Law Commission was leaning towards recommending a regulatory approach rather than prohibition.
Around December of 2017, it looked like the Law Commission was on the verge of recommending India take the regulatory approach rather than insist on prohibition. We noted at the time that the Law Commission was considering a range of regulatory measures that could be implemented to govern gambling and sports betting.
The mood was optimistic that the Law Commission would eventually issue a recommendation in favour of regulation. However, some of our enthusiasm was dampened around that time when it was reported that someone close to the Law Commission said their ultimate preference is to implement a successful prohibition.
The report, two years in the making, was finally published this month. Widespread media coverage reported that the law Commission was in favour of legal gambling and sports betting in India based on comments found in the report such as:
“Many countries that prohibit gambling have not been successful, particularly with regard to online gambling” and, “Since it is not possible to prevent these activities completely, effectively regulating them remains the only viable option.”
Also found in the report was this:
“This is evident in especially in light of the fact that the existing black-market operations relating to these activities are a major source of influx of black money in the economy, making, regulation rather than complete prohibition the logical step to be taken.”
Not So Fast, Law Commission Says
The Law Commission issued a press note on Friday saying that the media has misinterpreted the report. The Law Commission does not support regulation. In fact, it supports the opposite.
From the press note:
“The commission clarifies it has strongly and categorically recommended that legalizing betting and gambling in India in the present scenario is not desirable and a complete ban on unlawful betting and gambling must be ensured.”
The Law Commission further explains:
“It has been recommended that effective regulation remains the only viable option to control gambling, if it is not possible to enforce a complete ban in order to prevent unlawful activities and the Commission has recommended a number of guidelines and safeguards, in the event the Parliament or the State Legislatures decide to regulate these activities.”
What This Means for Sports Betting in India
The Law Commission is officially against legalizing gambling and sports betting in India, but it also left the door open for regulation. The Law Commission has effectively passed off the difficult decision to others in the government by stating it believes gambling should be prohibited, but only if such a prohibition is effective.
As the report itself noted, prohibitions have not been effective in other countries. If India does decide to go the prohibition route, it will soon find that to be the case as well. Even in countries that implement internet censorship and payment blocking, online sports betting is widespread.
What this means in the short term is anyone’s guess. It is widely known that prohibition of gambling are ineffective, but that has not stopped many countries from insisting on prohibition to this day.
The Indian government could very well attempt a prohibition, watch it fail to achieve the desired results and only then opt for regulation. On the other hand, the government could also skip all that and decide that the most sensible approach moving forward would be to regulate gambling, collect tax revenues and offer support to problem gamblers – all of which would be made possible in a regulated environment.