The Delhi Police have reportedly arrested 58 people who were allegedly gambling in an illegal casino that was operating at a hotel in the city’s Ghitorni area on Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road. Its operations were being coordinated via a WhatsApp group, and the operators had been shifting locations to evade the law. Under the Public Gambling Act of 1867, most forms of gambling are outlawed in the country. As with various laws banning activities deemed socially harmful, the existing legislation has not prevented people from placing bets on sports such as cricket, or penny-stake games at street corners. Large numbers of Indians gamble on card games during the festive Diwali season, when it’s considered auspicious to wager money on chance outcomes.
Should India legalize betting and gambling? Anecdotal evidence suggests that these can have a ruinous impact on families, especially if they become habits. But it’s also a fact that banning such activity simply pushes it underground and adds to the parallel economy. Why not allow it, impose regulations, and raise tax revenues from ticket sales?
The government could issue casino licences, lay out clear norms on who can participate, and limit the sum of money (or number of transactions) allowed to each player on a given day. The Law Commission of India has said as much and more on legalizing betting in sports. Its recommendations last year called for evolving a framework to regulate gambling and betting in sports in order to curb fraud and money laundering. Gambling, of course, constitutes a vast market—much of it online. Our extant laws need to be updated just to take reality into account.