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Union Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur (Photo: PTI)
Union Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur (Photo: PTI)

Let’s bet on liberty

It’s true that gambling can be addictive and self-harming. But this calls for devices that nudge people away from habituation, not an outright ban. If we have no escape from state paternalism, let it at least be the libertarian sort, as enunciated by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler

Betting and gambling are mostly illegal in India. Indians wager big money all the same. Some estimate our underground betting market at over $60 billion, with cricket accounting for about four-fifths of it. Last week, Anurag Thakur, our minister of state for finance and former president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, made a case for legalizing the activity on pragmatic grounds. It could indeed be a worthy source of tax revenue, while keeping match fixers and other racketeers out, as he said.

For a legislative change, though, Thakur may need to marshall arguments of principle. As of now, our laws frown upon games of chance and wink at those of skill. This distinction is often blurry, as with some of the fantasy games online that were okayed by courts. Rather than split hairs over the difference, we should accord every adult the liberty to stake money on random outcomes. It’s true that gambling can be addictive and self-harming. But this calls for devices that nudge people away from habituation, not an outright ban. If we have no escape from state paternalism, let it at least be the libertarian sort, as enunciated by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler.

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