Legalise betting, save cricket's reputation

If India's bookmakers were above board, they would have to operate like the legal ones in the UK.

It is implausible that India still don't have anti-fixing laws 13 years after the Azharuddin affair.

Over here in Blighty we used to joke that when we got an unseasonal warm spell it was because a billion Indians had let out a sigh of relief at a favourable injury prognosis for the Little Master. Well, it's oddly chilly here now. Is it because a billion have had a sharp intake of breath at the spot-fixing revelations that shocked the subcontinent?

Even from far away it is apparent India is suffering a painful bout of soul-searching. The allegations about the three Rajasthan Royal players are not as serious as those once faced by Mohammad Azharuddin. But there is anger and bitterness that the Indian Premier League (IPL) has been sullied.

That is because, for many, IPL represented the new India. Brash, brilliant, enticing. It had a cocksure swagger of its own that matched the burgeoning aspirations of a country coming of age. India was seizing the world by the scruff of the neck in all kinds of industry-not just cricket-making its voice heard and dictating terms.

But instead of feeling sorry for itself, India would do well to respond to the crisis by acting in a way which befits its importance on the world stage. Rationality and dignity are two words which spring to mind. Another is reality. Yes India, it is time for a reality check. Legalise betting and at once the game's reputation would be revived.

The battle to cleanse the sport begins now. It is as much of minds as of hearts. Debate has been lukewarm over whether India should legalise.

English gambling giant Ladbrokes made a presentation to the Maharashtra government in 2008 on the benefits of legalising gambling. They said "we will consider it". Betfair, another monolith of the betting world, is also understood to have held talks. Up until now there have been only sporadic mentions of legalisation.

The indifference is strange to an outsider. If gambling was legalised in India, the tax benefits would be enormous. "We are ready to pay tax," a top bookmaker told me. On Day One of legalisation, the threat of corruption in cricket would be reduced by half. Well, half of the perpetrators at least.

Bookie Ramesh Vyas, who was initially linked to Vindoo Dara Singh, after his arrest in Mumbai.

If India's bookmakers were above board, they would have to operate like the legal ones in the UK. That would mean an end to India's credit system, where bookies accept customers on trust. They would have to have money in their account to bet. For that, they would have to give their personal details. When accounts are kept and verified, you have a paper trail, which stops rogue punters setting up fixes with their 'friends' in cricket teams.

According to one bookmaker, this accounts for 50 per cent of fixes. It is not always bookies doing the fixing. It can be as simple as an ordinary man, who is friends with a player, to ask for a favour on the pitch: Bat out a maiden over for me, please? Concede more than 14 in your second over? He then gets all his mates and family to place as many bets as possible. Bingo.

This is why there is no corruption by gamblers with legal bookmakers in the UK. Corruptors of this kind know bookmakers are able to spot a suspicious betting pattern and the accounts that are driving it. Within half-an-hour of a 'fix', markets shut down and the police are knocking at your door.

Make no mistake, an illegal, unregulated market-which has no such safety catch-is a necessity for fraud of any kind. Syndicates that provide the odds to Indian bookmakers in a tiered system could still manipulate the odds in their favour, of course, just as any high-street bookie in the UK can, but the worry that their first, second or third-tier franchisees are accepting bets from punters with inside knowledge of a fix would be eradicated.

It is probable and unfortunate that in this latest disgrace, legalisation may not have made a lot of difference. The perpetrators were bookies who had their hooks on players, and with inside information, were able to manipulate the bracket betting (runs to be scored in certain overs) to coin in the crore.

But in this case legalisation is a byword for modernisation. The paying off of the police, the skulking around, would end. Syndicates may be replaced by legitimate gambling corporations. A win-win surely when one considers the creation of employment. So where's the problem? Most probably it is with the mafia who control the syndicates. Many believe that to be Dawood Ibrahim, who would not want to pay tax, and would also have the financial clout and persuasive patter to ensure that any move to put gambling on a straight and narrow line is halted.

Still the law chamber can stifle the problem as we wait. India must make match-fixing illegal. It is implausible that years on from the Azharuddin affair, no player, bookie or gambler can be put on trial for such a crime. It is no wonder that India is the cradle of cricket match-fixing when nowhere in statutory law does it state that it is wrong.

Recognising this, Australia has begun the process of making match-fixing illegal. Proposed legislation was accepted in November 2011 on a 10-year maximum jail term for offenders. If India followed suit, players and bookies would be forced to think twice.

In the aftermath of the IPL shame, there has been chatter about drafting new laws. Union Law Minister Kapil Sibal has said spot- or match-fixing should be made a criminal offence. That is a relief. The country is recognising that, previously, laws have been inadequate to prosecute perpetrators.

If India can make progress on legalising gambling and fixing a crime, it will lead the way. The world will take note. And instead of saying that IPL brought cricket to its knees, we might be able to call it the saviour.

- Ed Hawkins is the author of Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A Journey To The Heart Of Cricket's Underworld. Reproduced From India Today. © 2013. LMIL. All rights reserved. TAG: CYCSPL


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