sports ministry source in India has said that the government is planning to re-examine the contentious issue, hard on the heels of a recommendation from a trial court in New Delhi. "The aim is to ascertain whether legalised betting can exist in India without the stigma that is attached to it now," a sports ministry source told the Times of India.
"So we are looking at the pros and cons with great care. The UK model [The Gambling Act of 2005] seems rather comprehensive. We are keen on the legislation as soon as possible. At the same time it cannot be hurried through because we need to convince all about the need to legalise betting."
Last week, a Delhi court suggested that the police had failed to check the illegal-betting menace and that unaccounted money generated through it was being used to fund terror and drug trafficking. The court observed that making betting legal would also generate revenue, as with the lottery business.
The Guardian has also learned that in the UK the Gambling Commission, tasked with establishing a beefed-up intelligence unit across sport by a government panel, is to work with the Home Office and police on a study designed to establish the size and impact of the illegal betting market. Anti-corruption experts have warned that, unless the huge illegal betting market throughout Asia and the Far East is tackled by national governments and international law enforcement agencies, sport will struggle to stamp out match fixing.
Nick Tofiluk, director of regulation at the Gambling Commission, said: "The complexity of what is involved in pursuing a criminal investigation is not well understood. But what makes it even more complex is that the vast majority of betting we would look to identify is in very large illegal markets that are offshore. If you look at the scale of Interpol's activity in south-east Asia, we are talking hundreds of millions of dollars in terms of turnover. The problem I think we need to understand is the scale and scope of those illegal markets and how they filter through into sport."
India's gambling rackets, once dominated by the Mumbai underworld, have spread their tentacles in recent years: some of the biggest players these days can be found in small-town India. On Saturday the Times of India had an interview with Ramesh bhai, a bookmaker based in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. While he claimed to have no involvement in spot-fixing, his associates estimate his fortune is worth us$ 2.1 billion.
Most bookies operate from nondescript areas of towns and cities, like the old market in Jaipur. Odds are fixed by the top bookie and change according to the match situation. Most deals are done by mobile phone; conversations can sometimes be taped to make sure that someone pays up. the internet is also being used more.
During the last Indian Premier League season, each match attracted bets in excess of us$ 153.4 million. With many bookies having links to organised crime and syndicates in other countries, the police fight a losing battle. "How much can we do?" asks a senior police officer who has investigated the networks for a long time. "The maximum punishment under Indian law is a us$ 5.34 fine or three months in jail."
Gambling is hardly anathema to most Indians. During Diwali [the festival of lights] in November, millions of pounds will change hands as men and women alike play Teen Patti, similar to three-card brag. But any legislation to make it legitimate and taxable is likely to meet strong opposition from the right-wing and religious parties.
Such a government move will be next to impossible in Pakistan, given that gambling like the consumption of alcohol, is forbidden under Islamic law. There's also no guarantee that India's established betting syndicates would have any interest in going legit and sharing profits with the government.
Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the recently appointed chairman of the International Cricket Council's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit, who is spearheading the investigation into claims of match fixing against three Pakistani cricketers, last week called on sports to co-operate more closely to lobby for action from law makers. "I think the model that was put in place for cricket is a model for the sporting world. I intend to be in touch with colleagues in all sports. Perhaps together we can lobby for improved regulation of betting around the world."