TAKING STOCK: Allow betting on sports

Kathmandu:

The recent one-day cricket’s Champions Trophy in India saw unprecedented betting the world over. India, during cricket is converted into a giant casino. People everywhere bet.

As the operation is illegal, it is difficult to know the exact scale of wagering - estimates are in billions of dollars. Does it make sense for India to keep an operation of this size illegal?

No. Betting on sports, as indeed other forms of gambling, should be legitimised. Besides, gambling being a matter of our choice - no one forces us to bet - gambling serves a purpose.

Take the case of cricket betting. I asked an Indian friend, as to why he was betting against his own country. He replied, “I always bet against my country, for that way I am ensured of winning. Either my country wins or I win money”.

You may or may not agree with this logic, but, what my friend was doing was hedging his happiness. He was ensuring that his emotional feelings would be moderated, whatever the outcome. If India lost, his unhappiness would be compensated by his monetary gain. Conversely, if India won his happiness would be tempered by his loss of cash.

Even if the government could enforce the law - and it can’t - it would not be in my friend’s interest. He would lose his emotional equanimity. Surely, this is not an outcome which could be considered socially desirable. The result of government policies is, more often than not, the opposite of what the legislators intend. Anti-gambling laws are a classic example. Making gambling illegal is supposed to be in our interest. It is not.

Stopping people from gambling is supposed to protect them from material loss. As gambling never stops the protection is illusory. Moreover, for every loser there is winner too and, materially, isn’t it better for people in Nepal to be employed in gambling, than to be unemployed and become terrorists or beggars.

Prohibiting wagering is supposed to help in maintaining law and order. It does not. It corrupts the police force, makes ordinary citizens into criminals, and as people get used to breaking laws, they lose respect for all laws including ones which are good for us. It drives a relatively harmless activity underground, where it operates in the shadowy world of the mafia. It leads to undesirable elements in our society gaining an incredible financial clout.

In this world, the normal forces of competition, which protect the consumer are absent. In US casinos, where sports betting is legal, the operators go out of their way to look after their customers. They provide free drinks, hotel rooms and other facilities to those betting with them on football, baseball, and horse racing. No privileges are available when you bet with an illegal bookie.

No legitimate businessmen can be involved in an illegal activity and therefore you have no protection if the bookie reneges on his commitment and cheats you. You cannot go to a court of law. Conversely, if you cheat your bookie, since he too cannot obtain legal justice, his only remedy is to hire hoodlums to threaten to break your legs. Hardly an outcome which is desirable for society.

In any event, technology has rendered ban on gambling superfluous. Internet has come and is here to stay. No country can control it, not even the US. In course of time, as more people get access to computers and the internet in Nepal, it would be all but impossible for government to stop the spread of gambling. Internet gambling, and pornography, are the fastest growing businesses on the net.

What then? Our laws in Nepal can only determine whether or not gambling sites on the web are legal. These laws cannot and will not determine whether people gamble. What we do privately in our homes is and will remain impossible to monitor. Therefore, the only wise course for Nepal is to recognise reality, and open up gambling for all its citizens. This legalisation will add another dimension to freedom in Nepal.

(The writer acn be contacted at: everest@mos.com.np)